Homelessness is everywhere.  I know this.  It is hard to see, and it is hard to ignore, especially in downtown Nashville when you are faced with someone on every street corner, every single day.  I see these people at every intersection on my drive home, selling the homeless paper and asking for money and food.  A lot of these men and women have physical disabilities.  A lot of them don’t and pretend they do.  Sometimes, though, these people are easy to ignore and that is the part that really gets to me. 

Last week Kindle and I took a brain refresher walk around the block.  No reason really, other than to get up and give ourselves a bit of a break.  As we walked down Broadway we saw a pathetic-looking man sitting on a stoop, his hands folded in the pleading gesture, asking people for water. 

“I just want a bottle of water.  It’s all I want.  I don’t want alcohol.  I just want a bottle of water.  Please.”  

A lot of people walked past and ignored him.  Again, very easy to do.  Homeless men do not always tug at your heart strings.  This man had the looks of a man who really would prefer the alcohol and had chosen it for a good chunk of his life.  He was likely smelly and was considerably dirty.  Most probably there was some sort of mental illness or addiction that contributed to his homelessness – the slur in his voice certainly sounded that way.  But for whatever reason, this guy struck a chord with us and there was no reason in the world to be unkind.

We walked into the ice cream store, bought him two bottles of water and then walked them back to him.  We held them out and he looked up, took them, and bowed his head.  I’m not sure if it was relief or thankfulness or if he was just overwhelmed.  After a moment he looked up at us and said in the most thankful gut-wrenching voice, “Thank you.  It was all I wanted.” 

I don’t need to tell you that I cried.  Crying does no good, though.  And honestly, buying water every time I’m asked for it doesn’t either, although it is a nice thing to do and can help for a short time.  This isn’t the first time I’ve had my heart broken by homelessness. And more than once I’ve offered food only to have it angrily rejected.  It makes it hard to want to be nice.  Sometimes something will hit me with the most poignant clarity, though, and I realize that the problem is much bigger than hunger or thirst or needing a place to sleep. 

I’ve volunteered at homeless shelters before.  I listened to the men and women talk about their lives and how they ended up in the shelter.  I served food.  I connected, if only for an evening or two.  I don’t think my calling is to work with the homeless, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t help out when the need arises or the opportunity presents itself.

This really isn’t a plea for help.  This is only a commentary on the things that I see and a bloodletting, if you will, of some emotions that the homeless man evoked in me last week.  I’m looking for additional philanthropies and when I settle on them, I’ll let you know about it.  In the meantime, I’ll buy a meal when the chord is struck and give water to a man who is thirsty.  And I will most likely cry with the heartbreak of it, every single time. 


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