So I'm walking up towards Sunset Blvd. in the dark. It's about 6pm and I have somewhere I need to be. Up ahead I see a derelict slumped on the side of a building. "Great..." I groan inwardly and think "...another crazy guy. Should I cross the street? Nah, he looks harmless enough." He's bedraggled and filthy and his only companion is an enormous crap filled shopping cart, but he's somewhat stoned and probably immobile for the moment.
As I get closer a mini-van pulls over ahead of me and stops in front of the vagabond. Out pops a man a bit older than myself and a little boy no older than 5 or 6. The man takes the boys hand, and together they walk towards the street person. In their free hands are bags of groceries. I stop and watch as they gently approach and lay down the food for the man. The transient's face lights up with an enormous and impossibly white smile. "Thank you, thank you so much!" he slurs. The suburban man says a few more things, encouraging I'm sure but I can't hear, before taking his kids hand and returning to the van. The van is overflowing with groceries. The mom sits in the drivers seat, smiling warmly at her families return.
I resume my walk, as the van pulls away and the homeless man happily inspects his good fortune. I am moved almost to tears as I turn onto Sunset. Angels are truly among us.
Let's back up. I have lots of sympathy for the homeless, but I've always recognized that the vast majority of these poor souls are sick - as in mentally ill and/or addicted to drugs. I hardly if ever help them out with food, I NEVER give them money or any amount of my time. In my opinion, the best place for them to be is in a mental institution or in drug rehab. I often in fact find myself angry with them, having been around the world to places where people truly have nothing - it is a great insult to me and the world's impoverished for someone in Nike shoes and an I-Pod to ask for money (but this has happened on quite a few occasions).
Lack of money and opportunity is not the downfall of the street person. This is a great lie. Lack of mandatory mental health care and drug rehabilitation is the actual reason we have to step over these wayward souls in our parks and on our streets. Common sense dictates, in a civilized society, that these sick people should be forcibly incarcerated - though treated humanely and compassionately, until they are ready to get with the program. Living in filth and putting a blight on society should not be options; especially in a country so rich with resources.
That aside, the reality today, is that the American version of untouchables are permitted to dwell in the shadows. So called "progressives" are first and foremost in promoting a "street culture" that festers actively in society. Santa Monica, is an absolutely beautiful town, that is rotting from the inside thanks to the hundreds if not thousands of bums that reside in parks and public areas. San Francisco right now is out of control, worse than I've ever seen it, with dank and dangerous denizens nearly more abundant than tourists.
So with this in mind, I really do find it encouraging, that even in the face of such helplessness, people are moved to help - even if that very help may be ultimately counter productive.
Steve Page of Barenaked Ladies wrote a song about suicide, and sings about how at a certain bridge in his hometown of Toronto, that just happened to be the number two bridge in the world (second only to the Golden Gate) for people jumping, they built a massive net to catch would-be suicide jumpers at the cost of millions upon millions of dollars. Of course, suicides all but stopped at the bridge, but soon went back up even more at another bridge less than a mile away. Absolute absurdity; as much as is giving food or money to an insane person. Logically, it's easy to see that if anything, these hopeless acts are done to make the giver feel better about themselves, to ease some of the guilt for being so blessed.
But I think there is a lot more going on here than cold logic. A suicide net may be ridiculous, giving money to a bum may be foolish - but the day we stop building nets, and the day we stop lending a helping hand, is a day I don't want to see. In a simple act of kindness, even an illogical act of kindness, we can make an immediate difference to a person in need. There is no sin in this act. "But it's selfish or impractical!" we may argue. Nonsense, I say. There are blessings all around us, and when we make the tiniest effort to bring those blessings to someone in their darkest hour, we truly can change the world through the human heart.
I hope I have the courage someday to lead my daughter by example the way that little boys family in the mini-van did. We must never stop believing in a better day for all of God's children, all of them. And if we have to be clumsy and foolish in our efforts, that is about a million times better than being indifferent. God bless us all, every one.