There is a theater in Atlanta called the New American Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse where I frequently watch shows and have even been in some productions there. It's located on one of the many Peachtree Streets in Midtown. Parking for actors/students of the theater is around the back of the building.
About a block from this theater, there is a homeless shelter often referred to as the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter, located on Pine St. This shelter provides food, water, and clothes for the homeless men and women around the area, but many of them are still left without a place to live or even just sleep at night.
For the past 3 summers, I have participated in shows at this theater and parked around back. And every morning during this time, I would walk through a number of people on the street in that parking lot. Some were asleep on the ground, some sitting alone, some with a group.
For a while, I easily slipped past every one of them. I was thinking about getting in the building for rehearsal and about the people inside. Also, being a young woman alone in a city, I was quite wary (as I should be) of the homeless people around me.
Now, being wary does not mean heartless. Being cautious does not mean putting brick walls up between yourself and the human souls around you. And that's something I definitely had to learn.
Sometimes I feel like I'm not enough in my life. Whether it be in my relationships or in my career, many times I find myself doubting that who I am and what I bring to the table is enough.
Then I think about how the people on Pine Street feel. They don't have enough food, water, shelter, and many of them don't have families. Hundreds of times every day, people walk past them hurriedly while avoiding eye contact. Imagine how small and insufficient they feel everyday. They don't have families or real friends to turn to when they feel like this and they rarely get to have any contact with another person.
One day, I brought food to some older ladies on the corner of the shelter. I rolled down my window and held out the Chickfila bag and asked if they would like some food and water bottles. One of the ladies immediately began to walk toward my car. She took the bag from me and thanked me in a way I've never heard someone say it before. She looked right into my eyes, put her hand on my shoulder and said thank you. She squeezed my shoulder several times and I could tell she didn't want to let go. I told her she was so welcome and she smiled. She pulled away, walked back to her spot, and I rolled up my window to begin driving home. This is when I realized it isn't just money or food that they need. They crave human touch and connection.
Many people warn that you should never give homeless people money, you should buy them food, because they are always going to buy drugs or alcohol with it. And it's probably true for some of them. But, is it really our job to decide what they are going to do with it?
Generosity isn't limited to people that we deem to be trustworthy. If God places a person in need in my way, who am I to deny them money that might be their chance at food for the day? Or helps them buy clothes for a job interview? Or save their life? If they use it for something destructive, so be it. But it's in God's hands. It's not for me to decide.
Maybe we can't fulfill their need for human touch or get them all jobs. And we can't always give them food or money because sometimes we don't have any to give. But we can SEE them. Sometimes all it takes is a genuine smile and kind greeting.
I encourage you to look around at these people as well as people in your everyday life. Really see them and connect with them, even if it's just a brief moment of looking at them with compassionate eyes. You never know when that's all someone needs; someone to really look at them. And you never know when these moments could show you something real.