A homeless man waits on the side of a highway holding up a sign asking for food or money, and the vast majority of people that pass by him notice. Some stare, but nobody helps the man. Days, weeks and months pass as the man goes from corner to corner, safehouse to safehouse looking for someone to take pity on him in his need. He knows why everyone turns a blind eye to him. He knows that they see him and see failure as if he has never worked a day in his life and just expects the world to care for him. He knows that the wealthy among them see themselves superior in all respects and the middle and lower class just thank God they are not in his situation. He has never had an addiction. He doesn’t plan on buying cigarettes or alcohol with the money he scavenges, he plans on using it to buy gloves for the coming winter. Unfortunately, winter comes and the man is left with bare hands and the weather turns darker and colder as his heart does the same.
On a particularly snowy day in the middle of January, the man sits under a bridge alone. He watches as the pastor from the church across the street puts on his big downy coat and walks out of the building. They catch each other’s eyes, but the pastor simply nods, with a half-smile, gets in his pre-warmed car, and drives off. Later on, he watches as a businessman walks out of his office for a smoke break. The man looks him in the eye, scoffs, flicks his cigarette in the man’s direction and walks back inside. Hours go by as the man tries to warm himself up long enough to fall asleep. He sees several more people walking to their cars or coming out of buildings around him. Some notice him and politely acknowledge him while others ignore him entirely. As night falls, the man feels a gentle tap on his shoulder. Freezing cold and hungry, he is barely able to turn his head to see the smiling face above him, but when he does he sees a man in no better shape than himself - dirty, hungry, and cold. What this stranger has that the man doesn’t is a soft warm blanket that he bought from a secondhand store and a small shelter he built nearby. The stranger reaches out his hand to the man, gingerly helps him up from the ground, and together they walk to the makeshift home. When they arrive the man is delighted to hide behind the cardboard walls and escape the bitter wind. The stranger offers the man half of his blanket and they both lie down under it. For the first time in a long time, the man feels cared about and warm, and he sleeps soundly for the first time in a long time. This stranger is not a stranger at all, he is a fellow man, and he is a friend.
I like to think of myself a good person and a Christian. I sing praise songs in church on Sundays and I just finished a couples’ Bible study with my boyfriend. I work at my church’s daycare, and I went to a Christian college. Even my Facebook boldly states that I am a Christian.
I have also been the one to stare.
I have been the one to thank God for my better fortune.
I have been the one to pretend I didn’t notice the man.
In this world there are so few constants, and isn’t it a horrible reality that human kindness isn’t one of them?
Maybe she isn’t a prostitute. Maybe he isn’t addicted. Maybe you have no idea what they are going through. Maybe it’s time to open our hearts and become the friend. Colder seasons are upon us, and with them come the increasing need for the warmth of a kind soul.