I work downtown. Nearly every day, I walk past the poor, the destitute, the marginalized of society. I’ve learned to block it out – the glaring poverty around me. After so many years of walking downtown streets, I know how to insulate myself against it. I don’t really see them. I brush them off when they ask for change, I hurry past them when they get in my way. I rarely look in their eyes. I forget about their humanity.
I think I’m safe behind my walls. I justify my actions. “It’s best not to hand them spare change – they’ll probably spend it on alcohol or drugs.” “There are downtown ministries that can help them – I don’t have to.” “I’m doing my part for poverty overseas – I can only do so much.”
It’s so much easier to feed people in Africa. It’s easier to care for the children who don’t stumble drunk down back lanes of my downtown. It’s easier to visit their mud huts, take pictures of them, and then go home to my comfort and my table full of plenty.
I think I’m safe in my fourth floor office with my posters and brochures about ending hunger in Africa or Asia. I think I’m okay blocking out the poverty just outside my door. But then I leave the building at lunch time, open the door in a distracted state, stumble over the drunk sleeping body of one of the poor of my own city, and I find myself shaken to the core. My heart won’t stop racing.
The poor are right here. With me. Around me. And I have learned to ignore them for my lofty ideas of feeding hungry children elsewhere.
After lurching past the body on the sidewalk, I stepped inside the church next door. The priest spoke words directly to me. God cares for the poor. It may not be what he said, but it’s what I heard. Blessed are the poor. Blessed is the drunk man sleeping in my doorway.