2/03/2006

where compassion resides

This morning after I bought my coffee and bagel I walked by this guy laying on a garbage can. Really, he was spread out over the top of the garbage can...sleeping. I thought to myself, "Nasty, that has so many germs (the garbage can not the person, well ok the person probably had them too)." I kind of stared at him for a few seconds, I'd never seen a person sleeping on top of a garbage can. I've seen them many places, in boxes, on park benches, on the train, on the beach, on the ground - but never on top of a garbage can. When I finally was able to look away I continued on my journey to my job, the one that pays me lots of money, the one that allows me to spoil my daughter...and myself - sometimes. Just as I was about to walk into our brand new billion dollar building, I realized something. I've become something I promised I never would be, oblivious. When I saw that man laying on that garbage can, my first thought was of how much I was repulsed; thoughts of compassion never crossed my mind. I didn't feel sorry for him because he had no family, no home, no one to love him enough to give him shelter. I didn't wonder how he got to that place where the only bed he could find comfortable enough - was on top of a garbage can. I walk by homeless people every day. I see them when I leave my house, Harold is our alley bum and the only reason I know his name is because he told me once - while he wished me a good morning. How did it happen? How did I acquire selective sight? It isn't that I think I should take every homeless person I see into my home, or give them money, it's that I should at the very least give them an ounce of compassion instead of being repulsed by their existence. I should not be oblivious.

We're all guilty. We see people that are less fortunate than us and we give them nothing more than a sidewards glance because we don't want them to come too close. We're put out that we have to ride the train while smelling urine, we have to step over them to get to where - we need to be. We're annoyed that they are begging us for money while they stand on street corners in sub-zero temps. We are oblivious.

I'm not sure how to change you, how to change me, how to make it so that every single time I see someone that clearly has NO PLACE ELSE TO GO, that I find that place inside myself where compassion resides. That instead of looking in disgust, I look at them - not with pity, but with the loving heart that I know I have. I think posting this to my blog is a start, a small one, but still - a start.

15 Comments:

  1. k o w said...
    I try and have compassion but sometimes it's hard. I've given money to the homeless just to watch them get up and buy drugs with the cash I just gave them.
    Tab said...
    Good thought provoking post Net.
    We donate to the Food Bank when we can.Helping out makes a difference.
    Everyone needs food to cope.I hope
    your post will remind others to think about how they can help.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Tab
    NML said...
    Yes it was very thought provoking. It's a double edged sword because when we give money to the homeless directly, we question how the money is used, but when we donate to charity, we question whether the money reaches them. I pass umpteen homeless people as I walk through Soho each day to work and sometimes I give money, but I have no idea what makes me give some to one but not another. I guess all we can do is remember to actually help and do our bit.
    muylajuana said...
    Yes. There but for the Grace of God....
    sirreene said...
    "We are oblivious" ~ Not all of us. I agree with muylajuana my thought is "there but for the Grace of God...."
    e.e. said...
    oh, such a good post.
    We can't always help everyone, but somtimes we CAN help:
    Just last week I saw an old man come into a coffee/bagel shop, looking for his car keys. He had dropped them just outside his car, and there was a good 1/2 in. of snow falling so it made it difficult to find them.
    I see him and some other old men in that bagel shop almost every morning having coffee. Sometimes he sits with them, sometimes alone.
    He was wondering the shop, looking for his keys. He was kicking the snow. The other men were obviously snickering at him.
    When I finally got my coffee I went outside and helped him look.
    I was furious at these other men... whom he sits with every day... they didn't lift a single finger.
    Although we didn't find the keys, his car was there, it was open, and I was sure they would turn up.
    I did at least try and help.
    Sometimes, we just need to open our eyes.
    Networkchic said...
    I think that 'helping' isn't always about giving them money. I think just being able to look at someone instead of past them makes a big difference. I don't think we're all oblivious all of the time but most of us do go about our daily lives and focus only on what affects us. No matter who you are or which road you've travelled, you are a human being - regardless of where you lay your head at night...on a pillow or on a garbage can.

    I agree with emereld eyes, sometimes it really is as easy as opening our eyes.
    Caterpillar said...
    I struggle with this as well. I used to have compassion for most of the people asking for money on the street, but now I feel like so many of them could really be actually working - but I've heard they make more money begging than they would by working at McDonald's. And they're usually dressed in clean clothes, too.

    However, that being said, I do have real compassion and usually feel bad when I pass the guys sleeping in corners (and like your garbage can man) - they are ones with real problems and real needs. But, like you said, sometimes I purposely walk in a wider circle around them so I don't smell the urine.

    This is such a wonderful post, NWC, because I often think about how jaded I've become as I walk by all the people begging, and I know that some of them may really need help.
    Chuck said...
    That was one of the main reasons I gave up Church years ago. I couldn't stand being someone dressed to the 9's, sing, teaching/learning, etc about love and then heading to the nearest restaurant only to let any compassion fade away.
    I now go to a place that I hate to label as "church". It's more of a fellowship where everyone's welcome. The homeless are not just given a check but come and participate.
    Poverty will probably always be with us. But like you said how we respond to it is a different story altogether. I think I hate my own callousness and that of others more than the poverty itself. Does that sound selfish?
    Lori said...
    I think it is a matter of responding to someone like they are a person. At one time, he or she may have been very wanted, very loved...then something went very, very wrong.

    I always think, "There but for the grace of God go I." Because we struggle every, every day financially...and sometimes I fear we are just one paycheck away from disaster, I see the potential of what "could be", thank God for what is, and try my best to show compassion and grace to those who are trapped in a helpless circumstance.

    You say that you didn't wonder about how he got there, etc....but you did, you see...because you wrote about him and think about him. You are more than what you give yourself credit for and I only see a beautiful heart inside of your writing.
    Fitèna said...
    I was at a Conference in December and the "Conferencier" told us about an incident which happened while he was in Reunion island. He was into this Conference room with all those clean and nicely dressed people talking about how to alleviate poverty and be good to people etc... Suddenly there was some commotion and the door was opened by a drunkard who stumbeled in and crossed the room to where he was sitting on the stage. "I like what you are saying" he aid and started toucing his face and his hands crying. Some people came over and started dragging him out...
    What he wanted was just some compassion, someone to talk about him and those like him, like you did in this post, someone to care for them....

    Fitèna
    WDKY said...
    It's a shocking realisation, isn't it? It forces a major re-evaluation when that happens... I guess it's the consequence of being coccooned from any kind of real hardship for so long.

    One of the reasons I found helping out at COC so amazing qwas that it just hit you straight between the eyes. There were an abundance of realisations, believe me.
    Joe said...
    Excellent and thought provoking post, Jen. Working in NYC has made me oblivious to the suffering of others. It's almost like we're afraid of "catching poverty" if we get too close, or not having $5 for a cup of coffee if we waste it on another person who offers us nothing in return.
    Joe said...
    Of course, Jen being my secret code for NwC.

    Don't tell anyone...
    Sky said...
    There are times when I am too compassionate and there are times that I show no emotion. I have found over the years that many of them have put themselves in that position and are too lazy to help themselves (my ex Danny for example...yes I know I just used his name :). ) Then there are those that lost everything because some sort of catastrophe. If I let myself feel anything then my house will be full of homeless people.

    I did; however, empty my wallet of change to an old man on the corner a few months back. He was probably 70 years old and my heart really did go out to him.

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