Entering the downtown parking garage after an evening with friends, the smell of urine was over-
powering. As I turned to my husband to comment, there was a flurry of movement and from out of nowhere came a man who now stood between the exit and us.
“You guys got any money?” He said in his gravelly voice and before we could even respond he had jerked up his shirt and was showing us his heavily bandaged chest.
“Got blown up in the war. Come on, guys just give me some money.”
It was only earlier that day that I had written about no longer being able to ignore the homeless man in the street. And now, here was this man making certain that we would not ignore him. His movements were erratic and we were alone in an isolated, dark garage—only the streetlights from outside lit where we stood. His eyes were outlined as though someone had drawn around them with a bright red marker. His body was wiry and he was probably not much taller than me and there was something dangerous-feeling about him. It was desperation.
How do you respond to desperation? How do you have a conversation? Suggest a cup of coffee? Hand over $10? For $10 would not ever be enough. Enough for what? A score of crack cocaine. A decent meal. A bus ticket out of town. His lost dignity.
My husband responded, “I’m sorry, but we don’t have any cash.” The interchange—request for money and refusal—was repeated a couple of times at which point the man clenched his fists, made a grunting sound along with a short, quick punching motion, started to leave and then said, “Hey, you guys Christians?”
What could we say? We said nothing and then he was gone.
I say ‘he was gone’ and yet he has not left my mind for more than a few moments in the four days since this happened. I feel strong compassion and care for this man who represents thousands of others on the Seattle streets. I do want to make a difference, and in the moment, I feel as if we did nothing. We were stunned. And scared. We felt trapped and potentially in danger. Trapped.
I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to feel trapped and desperate every moment of the day. If money is not the solution and conversation/relationship not an option, what else is there? What will I do the next time I am faced with a similar situation? What will I do in the meantime? Can caring be enough, as Brian McLaren says?
“Just caring is a good start. That’s a real start. Who knows where it could lead.”
I look forward to seeing where this caring leads, because not caring is no longer an option.
I’d love to hear thoughts from you and ways you see that are making a difference.
photo from google images