Friday, September 10, 2010

A Hug on the Street

The following is something I wrote in 2006.
It's about charity.
I hope it touches your heart.

When I first started my new job in downtown Salt Lake City, along my walk to the bus stop I found myself frequently approached by homeless people asking for money. At first, I would just continue on my hurried way to the bus stop, rationalizing to myself that I could not stop and give cash to every person on the street who asked me. I’d given to folks on the street in the past, but now that I was working downtown, I decided to walk on every time or I’d always be giving out money.

After a couple of weeks of these solicitations, a scripture came to my mind as I was on my way to catch my homebound bus. The words of Alma pointedly struck my mind and heart:
“… if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.” (Alma 34:28)
The thought of my prayers being in vain, due to my selfishness on the city streets, gave me pause. As I continued walking, I thought of another scripture on the same subject, which says:

“And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish…
And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.” (Mosiah 4:16, 22)
Certainly I had judged these individuals in my heart, as part of my rationalization process. If they want to get out of this situation, they’ll get a job. If I give them money, they’ll probably just spend it on drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. I don’t want to enable their addictions. In my desire to remain in my comfort zone, and do only what was convenient for me, I was judging and condemning them. They had put up their petition to me in vain—and I would be held accountable for that.

As my heart began to change, my next thought was: How much do I give? To how many do I give? I have a family to support—how much of my income do I reserve for supporting these strangers? The answer came as I discussed the issue with my wife. We decided that a dollar or two to each person who asks was not going to break us. We acknowledged that we waste money on impulsive, unnecessary purchases often enough. To give a small portion of our abundance to those who have so little would not be an imposition on our family. And my wife reminded me that it has been said that we will be blessed for giving to the poor, regardless of how the recipient uses his agency with the money we give.

From that point on, instead of making sure I had no cash in my wallet (a ploy I’d been using so that I could honestly tell beseechers I had nothing to give them), I decided that if I did have some cash, I’d keep it with me, in the form of a few single dollar bills. Whenever asked by someone on the street, I would give a couple of dollars.

A few months went by and it had been a while since I’d been asked for money. One day, as I left my office building and headed toward my bus stop, I looked around at all the people, living their lives, busily going to their own destinations, each with a unique life experience and with their own personal agenda. Each was a stranger to all others, living in his own little world. It struck me that each one is known to our Heavenly Father. He knows every one of his children intimately and perfectly—their hopes, their dreams, their thoughts, their feelings, their trials, their successes, and their failures. As they hurry on their way, our Father knows—better than even they do—where exactly they are headed. The thought suddenly entered my mind that it would be nice if there could be a way that I could help one of these people in some meaningful way. I silently prayed for such an opportunity, for a chance to make a difference in the life of one of these many strangers.

I walked on, and not twenty feet from the point at which my prayer concluded, a man sat on a low cement planter by the edge of the street. He saw me coming, and muttered something to me. I moved toward him, and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.” The man repeated his request, a little louder this time, “Do you have a penny, a nickel, or a dime—anything, please?” His petition was so humble. Not a dollar, not “some spare change,” but only the smallest denomination. His quiet voice barely escaped the long, overgrown beard that hid his weatherworn face. The hair of his head was long and shaggy, and he wore a tattered baseball cap. Once I understood what he had said, I responded by pulling out my wallet, and saying to him, “Well, I’ve got a couple of bucks, how about I give you one of them?” As I dug out the dollar bill, the man said, “Yes, please. Jesus loves you.”

I handed him the dollar, and something unusual happened. He slowly rose to his feet, saying, “Can I give you a hug?” Caught off guard, I awkwardly embraced him there on the street for a few moments, and patted him on the back as we separated. As he was shorter than me, his baseball cap hit my shoulder, causing it to fall from his head, but I caught it and replaced it. As this poor soul withdrew from me, he brought his hand to the bridge of his nose to cover his face. He was sobbing.

Feeling a little taken aback by the whole incident, I told him to have a good day, and hurried on my way. As I continued up the hill toward my bus stop, the feelings started to hit me and tears formed in my eyes. I had prayed for an opportunity to help someone, and I was immediately given one. I believe that if our hearts are willing, and we pray for the chance to help someone, and keep our eyes open, the chance will soon arrive.

When I reached my bus stop, I looked due west to a beautiful view of the Salt Lake Temple, the house of the Lord in which I had been sealed to my beautiful bride four years earlier. I wondered to myself: Who is preaching the gospel to the homeless? How can they have a hope to go to the temple when they don’t even have an address? How can their temple work be done when we don’t even know their names?

I considered how blessed I am, with my wife and son, and home and job, and testimony. I got on the bus, and headed back down the street toward where I’d come from. The bus stopped at a light, and I looked out the window to see the homeless man sitting on the street eating some fast food. As the bus moved on, I fought back the tears as I thought of the words to the song, “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.” Another scripture came to mind: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25: 40). The scriptures are rife with admonitions to give freely to those in need, and the Savior set the perfect example of charity. “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” (Matt. 5:42.)
“For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? …
“And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, … O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.” (Mosiah 4:19, 21.)
Sure, it makes you feel uncomfortable to be asked for money - it feels like a violation of your space. And ignoring people just feels wrong. Who wants to be made to feel guilty?
A change of attitude is in order.

Ours is the opportunity to relieve a little human suffering here and there. Be sure to do so with love in your heart, not a grudging sense of obligation. It could change your life.

I will never forget my “homeless hug.” I have pondered on how lonely that man must have been, and wondered when the last time he’d been hugged by anyone was. I wondered how many people, content in their lives, had passed by and ignored him that day - that week - that year. That afternoon, he gave me the only thing he felt he had to offer, and it was far more than the dollar I had given him.

I only wish I had asked the man his name, and told him that Jesus loves him, too.

My Family

My Family
THIS is what it's all about. (July 2013)

Nikon FX-Format