Yesterday, I was walking back to work through the park after lunch with Scott. I experienced something I never had before. For those of you who know me, I work at a community health center in downtown Richmond. The population we primarily serve is the homeless. In Richmond, there are approximately 1,200 homeless individuals, according to the last count in January. We see them all the time, on the street corners, under bridges, at the bus stop, in McDonalds. If you've lived in Richmond for any length of time and been in the the city, you've probably seen a fair share of panhandlers on the street corners or just off the exit ramps that lead into the city. As I walked through a park that has been known for years as a refuge for the homeless, I saw something I can't say I've ever seen before. From a distance all I could make out was a middle aged man sitting on a curb in the park writing something with a black magic marker. As I got closer, I could see that he was more than likely homeless and was writing on a piece of old cardboard that he would probably take to a nearby street corner in the next couple of minutes. As I approached, I slowed my pace as I started to realize the effect this was having on me. As I neared the man, I started to make out what he was writing. His message was simple. The sign read in bold letters, "Please Help". You're probably asking yourself, "What's the big deal? Don't you see this kind of thing all the time?" No, I don't.
I'm still not sure exactly why I was so moved by seeing this man in the physical act of writing out his plea for help. I guess it's just something I never really thought about. Where should have I thought these men and women get their signs? Are they just passed out like bottled water and a warm breakfast might be at a local church on a Sunday morning? Do they somehow drop from the sky and land next to them as they sleep under the stars each night? No.. That's not how it works. I think it is starting to come together.. Regardless about how you or I feel about padhandling, these men and women took time from their day to humble themselves enough to ask for help. Now, you might be the type who thinks that the homeless use that money for the wrong things and the money they acquire is simply perpetuating homelessness. You're probably right- I think that sometimes too. What I think moved me most was seeing this man find the humility he needed to ask another human being, a stranger he has probably never met, for help. How often do we lean on one another for the things we need in life? Our culture seems to be so focused on self reliance and independence that we have forgotten how to ask for help. I guess it was his humility that moved me.