Wednesday, October 08, 2008

faithful in little things

I just returned from walking The Professor in the park near my house. (For those of you who have asked, he is doing fine. Tonight he actually ran a short distance.)

The last two nights I have stopped to talk to a couple who took up residence in the park this week. Now and then I have seen people spending a night in the park, but they usually move on. Recently, though, something has happened. I am seeing the same people regularly sleeping in the park.

There is the woman with the shopping cart, who mutters constantly and seems to be incapable of forming a response to greetings. There is the Indian who reads by the light of a street lamp and then sleeps on a sheltered bench. And then there is the couple I met two days ago. They sleep in the park in sleeping bags because they were evicted from a shelter.

And the shelters are filled. Every bed. When the temperature starts to drop in the evening (soon to slip into the 30s), the park will not be a place to sleep.

Several years ago, I started my own program of meeting what needs I could -- and it is a small gesture. Because I live alone, I almost always have several servings of left overs from each meal. I decided to put them to good use. And it is time I start the program again.

I will warm up the left overs, put them in individual servings containers, and take them to the park. My offer is often rejected -- usually by people who are struggling with medication issues. But, when someone accepts, I sit and eat with them. I have learned many things in these short connections with my neighbors.

The city has warned me not to feed people on the theory that if the people in the park find a place with food, they will not move on -- as if they were a flock of geese. The whole notion seems to be based on the assumption that the people in the park are simply enjoying a little outing. No one could believe such a thing unless they had never experienced the sheer panic of being without money, food, shelter -- or friends.

So, why am I writing this? I am not boasting, but I am concerned. The people in the park are refugees from prosperity. I can only imagine the Ellis Island reenactments as the economy continues to spiral down.

One of the attorneys who works with me told me that a man, woman, and child showed up at her door this weekend and asked for canned foods. She was ready to give them something, but her husband told her "no."

I wish she had given the food. And I hope that each of us when presented with a need will be willing to share.

When I start thinking that our acts of kindness are so little, I am encouraged by one of Mother Teresa's rephrasing of a parable: "Little things are indeed little, but to be faithful in little things is a great thing."


glorv1 said...

Homelessness is a very sad thing. I am inspired by your generous acts and I would do the same and have done the same. Today my husband and I were coming home from a short trip and were on the freeway, a man, a dog, a cart full of personal belonging were there, just there. We could not stop but my heart ached. Water, food, was probably what they needed. I wish I could have helped, we could not stop. Thank you for helping like you do, God will be extra good to you. God Bless You.

American Mommy in Mexico said...

A mensch indeed. The fact that you actually sit and eat with these neighbors is one of the nicest things I have heard in awile.

Steve Cotton said...

Gloria -- It just seems so little. The man, of the couple I described, saw me in the park with Jiggs this evening, ran up to me, and hugged me. He said Jiggs and I were their their only encounter where they were treated as people. It almost made me cry. Becaise it was such a small thing.

American Mommy -- Thank you so much. High praise indeed. I started sitting with them to break through the barrier of pride -- mine and theirs. I have received far more in return from them than I have ever given.

IslaZina said...

I applaud you. When I was a reporter in Cleveland, there were several reporters who specialized in the homeless. At the same time, I knew one guy who live under a bridge near the gas station down the street from the paper. I have MS and had a broken foot. He would pump my gas yet never took money.
One cold night, I brought him into the newsie bar for a bowl of bean soup and slice of bread. That's all he wanted. But I sat with him and we got to know each other more.
We were shunned by my colleagues, and this wasn't a classy joint to begin with.
Blade and I got close over the years. Once he asked me where to do laundry, the machines cost so much. I told him to go to Goodwill on buck a sack day. He was very grateful.
He asked me to help him relocate into the country where he could work on a small farm or something and sleep in the barn. His dream worked out.
It is really the human contact that is important. Or they lose touch with what is possible in our world. Bless you!

Anonymous said...

You are a good person Steve!

Paul said...

Thanks for sharing, Steve. Powerful counsel. It reminded me of something I read last month.

I really enjoy your blogging and sharing of your inner struggles. I find they encourage me.

Laurie said...

Keep on feeding people! Don't stop. This blog entry touched my heart. I worked at a homeless shelter for a time in New Orleans. There are so many people who are homeless, and they are individuals. I applaud your efforts to speak with them. I made treasured friends from the ranks of the poorest in NOLA. Some were mentally ill, some were addicts, some were learning disabled, but all of them needed a friend during that time in thier life. I am privileged that some of them called me "friend" in return.

Steve Cotton said...

Islazina -- Thank you for the encouraging words. The cold weather has started driving some of the people from the park. I think I know where they may have moved.

Jackie -- Thank you. But there is still so much to do.

Paul -- I hope we can encourage one another.

Laurie -- Some of those moments of eating a warm meal beside the stream in the park with bew friends will be some of my best life memories.