It is easy to forget to be truly thankful.
I had to get out of my comfort zone to find it and if you want the truth, I planned to spend the day in the spa.
IT’S NOT SAFE WITH THE HOMELESS
A red carnation adorned the room service tray in my comfortable hotel room. As the image of a woman with a furrowed brow begging on the sordid streets last night invaded my mind, I wondered if a red carnation would brighten her day. I wrapped it in a Kleenex and put it in my bag, along with my computer and a few small bills and went looking for her. I know, skip the caution. I don’t want to hear it. Safety isn’t a place, it’s a person.Sometimes playing it safe is the riskiest thing we can do. Calloused hearts and blind eyes are dangerous. #compassion Click To Tweet
The cardboard sign and a cup were balanced between the arms of his wheelchair. His dark skin was smooth; his beard salt and pepper. I guessed he was about my age. Toothless, he smiled when I handed him the carnation. He asked for money and I fished out a dollar bill. We chatted a while after I learned his name, then a young man turned around and returned to put his dollar in the cup. Said he changed his mind. I like that. Nice to get another opportunity after you have walked away.
As I proceeded down the sweaty sidewalk I overheard two women talking about why they didn’t give money to panhandlers. “I feel guilty but it wouldn’t be fair to give to one and not help them all.” Huh? I hope she gets another opportunity to meet the challenge and be blessed.
When I write, I often jot down thoughts to form the sentiment I want to express. This is what I wrote the morning before my venture into the Crescent City, before I met Ike.
I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.
I left Ike to eat lunch alone near the river and had the crazy thought I wanted to invite him. He smelled bad, he couldn’t walk and well, that is admittedly weird even for me. I tried to dismiss the notion until my own words stood to condemn me. You see, Ike had no legs.
Unable to resist, I returned but talked myself out of stopping when a waiter from a nearby restaurant stepped out to smoke. Now I was headed the wrong direction and needed to conserve my limited strength, so I turned around and passed a third time. Again, I didn’t stop. He made eye contact but did not ask for more money. The carnation was displayed in a nearby cup.
I HOPE NO ONE SAW THIS
There is a Walgreens on every corner in the French Quarter so I went in to buy him a package of crackers and toiletries. He didn’t need a toothbrush or a comb so I picked up a canister of hand wipes. When I changed my mind and set them down, the clerk eyed my like I was a little shady.
I walked to Cafe’ du monde for beignets but I changed my mind about that too. I figured the powdered sugar would make me sick. Or something.
HOMELESS PEOPLE ARE HUMAN
My legs were getting heavy so ordered gumbo and sat outside. I picked up red beans and rice to-go then went to find Ike. When I returned with the small, overpriced Styrofoam container of carry-out I called, “Ike, do you like red beans and rice?” He did. Turns out Ike was a chef. Said he had worked in several restaurants in the French quarter. Made an honest living until diabetes took his legs. He blamed the government and lambasted politicians. I suggested God’s children ought to step up and do what they are called to do. He agreed as he gobbled the red beans, saving the rice for later. Maybe the hand cleanser from Walgreens would have been a good idea but he didn’t seem to mind the scraps dribbling down his hand. I told him it broke my heart he lived under a bridge. He said not to feel sorry for him. He didn’t want sympathy, he only wanted help.Some can make a big difference, but all can make some difference #thankful #dosomething Click To Tweet
As we talked his passion and volume rose. He complained about panhandlers who scammed people for money and spent it on alcohol. Then he pointed to a woman passing by and said too loudly for my comfort, “Like her.” Her, the woman with the furrowed brow who I brought the red carnation for. Glad I didn’t save it.
I won’t feel sorry for Ike and I won’t feel sorry for me either. I have two feet. And they took me to a good place.
His dreadlocks bounced wildly as he danced with all his might. He asked for money as a broad grin across his face, then picked up the pace of his unskilled tapping. I asked his name as I fished out my less-than-generous donation.
“I’m just trying to earn an honest living,” he boasted. He had two feet and he was using them to make a racket.
“What about those shoes?” I asked.
He bent his leg to show me the taps then showed off his container of spare tacks.
“Do you dance all day?”
“No, just a couple a hours.”
Keep smiling Harlan.
He had a decent bicycle and he had two feet. One rested on the pedal, the other supported his weight. He called out to me, “Hello there.”
My instinct was to ignore him. Instead, I simply responded, “Hello,” you know, like he was a fellow human being.
He asked, “Are you from here?”
“No, are you?”
“Born and raised!”
Having a little difficulty hearing his low voice, I stepped closer.
“That sure is a pretty blouse you are wearing.”
“Thank you. What’s in the case?”
“A guitar, I play real good.”
I’m sure he does.
I asked his name and told him mine. He repeated it and complimented me again. Told me he liked my sunglasses. Oh, you mean the ones I wore so I could pretend not to see you? I walked on. He didn’t ask for anything except to be treated with courtesy. It cost me nothing, but gave me great satisfaction. He put his feet on the pedals and headed the opposite direction.
My feet were dragging a bit. The disease makes them heavier as I walk, but I was unusually grateful to have them. I was thankful for my shoes too. I was particularly glad I didn’t live under a bridge, but I was also thankful for the people I met who did and managed to still be people; not bitter people, not ungrateful people, not scary people, just people. I’m glad I visited them. And I’m glad I skipped the pedicure. Looks like I didn’t need it after all.
Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” NIV