Growing up in a moderately sized house in Aurora, Colorado is a blessing. My life has been granted undeniable graces that numerous people are unable to experience: running water, my own room, or even a fridge full of food. Understanding people from a different culture or economic background has always required a little more effort. It starts with the premise that every human being is a child of God. No matter their situation, they deserve the basic rights of dignity, compassion, and love. On a service trip, I spent time with the people that are outcasted from society: the homeless. This is my story of the encounter I had with people experiencing homelessness in late 2014.
It was a warm October day and school was off so that the juniors could take the pre-SAT’s. Regis offered students an opportunity to “be in solidarity” with the homeless. Encouraged by a teacher, I decided to sign up not knowing what I got myself into. We organized in groups of five around 9 am and headed towards the public buses. By 11, we arrived at Union Station in downtown Denver and then walked to the St. Francis Center. At the center, we learned about the “logistics” of homelessness. We were taught about causes, stereotypes, and what it was like to come to the center for assistance. We then broke into small groups with an adult leader from the center. They told us we were going to be walking downtown for a while. We left and started to walk towards the heart of downtown. I have seen homeless people before but I haven't really interacted with them. Every time I headed to a football game, a concert, or even shopping, they were there. This time though, we weren't just walking past them, but we were going to talk to them. I might of been more nervous than I will admit, but I continued anyways.
We approached this older man who appeared homeless. He had many items with him and was sitting on the ground against a building. We sat down and began to have a conversation. His words, although not completely coherent, were filled with wisdom. He asked me to hold his blunt so he could write in my journal. Feeling very uncomfortable, I took it and handed him my journal. He began to write while my friends laughed at my red face. After a couple minutes, we exchanged materials and I read what it said. The words, softly written in cursive, were “thanks for giving your heart.”
I was encouraged to “be in solidarity” with others, specifically the homeless. I have heard this term float around before, but did I know what it meant. Solidarity is unity with another person no matter their culture, situation, or beliefs. How often are in union with another person? I understand its difficulty for I struggle with it. When we talked with that man who was experiencing homelessness, we sat with him. We talked with him and recognized his humanity. We listened to him. This is what I believed we are called to do everyday. Being in solidarity means we give of ourselves so that we are in union with each other. I think Jesus truly lived in solidarity with the outcasted, homeless, and poor. He lived among them.
Approaching strangers is a uniquely difficult task. There are so many doubts or prejudices that we have, so we just ignore them. Even in the time of Jesus, people were outcasted and separated from society. There is something about being different or struggling that most people reject. That is NO excuse for ignoring the members of society that need love most. Even as a group of good intentions, we still approached the man because he “looked” homeless. We never asked him questions about alcohol or drugs, but rather, questions about his goals, possible work, and finding a safe place to sleep. We talked to him about changing, not condemning him for his problems. I think experiences like this is important to help people realize and recognize the humanity in others.
The most beautiful part about that day was the note he left me. He didn't say thank you for listening, but thank you for giving your heart. We are all humans with plenty of problems. The best way to be in solidarity and to change our perceptions of people is to give our hearts. Loving others the way God loves us is the first step to changing the world. Sure, this is no easy task, but it should be at the top of our priority list. This means talking with others. This means focusing on the positives and addressing the negatives appropriately. This means giving our hearts to others.
With influences outside of ourselves, we come up with ideas about other people, especially those different from our culture, beliefs, and situations. These people around us, even here in Helena, are experiencing something. Notice, they are experiencing something. All of this pain and struggle is a temporary result of the chaotic actions of life. The best way to live is out of love. I didn't solve the problems of anyone that day. I didn't change society, but I did change my heart. I look at poverty in a different way. I strive to live simply because I don't need all of these materials in my life. I want to be in solidarity with others because they are human just like me. I encourage others to look at problems with compassion. I am not perfect and that is why I look towards Jesus. He loves with a human heart, but he is not afraid to give of himself. This experience of poverty and homelessness changed me. I have so much hope. We do great things because we are surrounded by great love, so lets act like it.
Thanks for giving your heart
It is a union with another
just like me.