Dear Fellow Pilgrims,
I’ve learned a bit. Ok, more than a bit. I’ve learned a great deal actually from the time I’ve shared talking and walking with homeless persons in our community. Prone to bouts of arrogance at times, I once believed I had the solutions and they had the problems; I had the insights and they had the shortcomings. Boy, was I in need of an education, and, thankfully, they had the gentle wisdom to teach me.
Here, for your own reflection, I offer the top five lessons I’ve learned from people who have hit rock bottom, lost everything and lived on the streets.
1. You can always laugh. No matter how much you have lost, hurt or suffered, God still gives us plenty of opportunities to lift our spirits with smiles, joy and humor. It is a gift of great value.
2. We really don’t need much, hardly anything really. So many of the things we think we want or need have little or no true value. They do not bring meaning or happiness to our lives, and losing them does not inhibit meaning or happiness.
3. Other people pay the price for our sins. This is a hard one. We don’t like to admit it. Almost every homeless person I’ve met has been a victim of abuse, often, but not always, during childhood. Additionally, they are hurt by social callousness, an absence of love, exclusion from health-care and education systems, and economic injustice. Their lives are the price paid for others’ sins, including our own.
4. Authentic love is always welcome. Sometimes we hold back a bit, not quite willing to risk an investment of our compassion and affection. Are we over-stepping a boundary? What if our love is not appreciated or is rejected? Nonsense! And so what? All people, even if they seem too strong or aloof to admit it, want, need and crave the genuine love of other people. Share it with reckless abandon!
5. True sacred communion happens when we strip away everything else. I have been moved to the brink of tears by the connection, concern and compassion demonstrated by many of the homeless people I’ve met. When you take away the pretenses, posturing and image-guarding, all you’re left with is pure, vulnerable humanity. And that’s where you get a glimpse of the divine.