Last Friday & yesterday there has been a homeless man posted on the corner with a limp cardboard sign. He panhandles early in the morning, in the burgeoning Arkansas heat. I encounter homeless folks multiple times every day because of the neighborhood I live in, & because it is nearly impossible not to in Little Rock. According to this site there are 9 homeless folks for every 10,000 members of our general population.
When I passed that man the first time, his hair slightly dreadlocked, I tried to make eye contact but saw that his eyes were unfocused. He was grunting & talking to himself, making jerky movements with his hands & neck. Signs of internal suffering were there as clearly as the dirt under his fingernails.
I won’t say that folks who are not Cut from the Same Cloth as I (any number not 4 on the Enneagram ) would not see this man with compassion. I do, however, know that an innate part of me makes it impossible to not identify a part of myself in that homeless man.
A couple of weeks ago I sat at my parents’ long dinner table with Christian conservative friends of theirs. The opinionated woman of the couple said, “I felt bad coming out of this fancy sushi restaurant while homeless people stood outside.” She laughed, the flab on her arms waving. “A lot of them are crazy, you know.”
That’s a perspective that I have never seen people from, a distanced other-ing. It is clear to me that circumstances beyond our control are what make or break us. Imagining myself in those oversized lace-less shoes on the street corner (pictured above) is easy.
Part of who I am is an active imagination, the compulsive tendency to identify with the suffering of others.
I missed that man when I drove by & he wasn’t there this morning. His suffering (although vastly different from my own suffering) feels familiar; it reminds me of my vulnerability. The Cloth I’m Cut From ensures that I tire of guarded, shallow interaction. The honesty of homelessness breaks open my heart in a way that grounds me. I want every person to have a home, but as long as they don’t, I want to see it on my way to work.
The sky was clear this morning, heavenly.
Until Earth becomes Heaven I want to bear witness to what makes it Hell. Probably because of the Cloth I’m Cut From.