“Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” – John Kennedy
Racism is one of many challenges facing all of us now, and not far behind it is homelessness and the mental illness that often is part of this condition. How do Lemurians think about homeless people and relate to them? Two Lemurian Order members tackle this subject.
Encounter at Dunkin Doughnuts
As I sat on a bench outside Dunkin Donuts having my coffee, a very tired looking man plunked down next to me. He carried the characteristic plastic trash bag holding cans and bottles, which told me he was a “canner.” And from the look of him and the heft of his bag I could tell he wasn’t having a very profitable day.
I decided to strike up a conversation with him but he wasn’t in a very talkative mood, except for with himself. I asked him about the impact of the COVID-19 virus shutting down the redemption centers, and hadn’t they just re-opened recently? But very shortly he drifted back to the very active conversation he was having inside his own head. So I sat quietly eating my doughnut, trying not to eavesdrop as he carried on.
I felt an urge to do something for this man, perhaps offer him a doughnut or give him some money, but something told me to think carefully before acting. He was not asking anything of me, and though giving him money or buying him a meal might make me feel very good, I realized it could be perceived by him as offensive. My well-intended desire, driven solely by feeling, could easily do more harm than good.
I had done all I could think of for him, and that was to treat him like a regular guy and not wall him off as the vagrant one feels uncomfortable around and so often tries to avoid. I resisted the urge to do what would make me feel good about myself, and just wished him a good day.
Each weekday morning I arrived at Penn Station in New York City with hundreds of other commuters. The homeless seemed ubiquitous, and every day for weeks one of them stood in the middle of the Penn Station concourse during the morning rush hour. Unshaven and slightly stooped as he leaned on his walker, the man I’ll call Willie wore shoulder length white hair, his stained clothes old and baggy. He stood fast in the face of the oncoming horde of commuters, yelling unintelligibly, causing them to divide on either side of him.
Each morning I hurried past Willie with indifference. I walled him off emotionally, assuming he had psychological challenges and was no more than a noisy object. Still, his presence troubled me. When I finally set aside my well-reasoned rationalization and was willing to be honest with myself, I realized the reason for my negative reaction was my fear of Willie.
As a Lemurian student, I was learning why I should try to treat all people with kindness, patience and tolerance. This is easy with family, friends, and others I get along with. The challenge for me is to extend this loving respect to people I don’t like, who rub me the wrong way or who I want to avoid. But the idea slowly crept into my mind that Willie, just like me, was a human being with problems. Gradually I began to study him. No longer was he just an object on the concourse. I could see him as a person with a hard life. Though I knew I should be careful approaching a stranger, I felt Willie was not a danger and one day, finally, I decided to greet him.
Next morning Willie was at his usual spot, yelling loudly. Gathering my courage I cut across the path of the commuters, came face to face with him and introduced myself. He stopped yelling. As people streamed around us, he told me of his life on the streets, how hard it was but how it was safer than living in the city’s shelters. He talked about being robbed and that he worried it would happen again. We spoke of his injured leg and the medical care he was receiving. When I asked why he yelled at us each morning, Willie said he was just trying to catch our attention. Since he wasn’t panhandling, maybe he just wanted to be noticed.
We talked until it was time for me to go. When I walked away, Willie was no longer the wildly yelling homeless man. He was a human being with feelings, fears, and problems. Just like me.
I still think of Willie and wonder if he remembers me.
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