I drive a lot these days and have since my early twenties. Some take the same familiar route daily while mine has always been all over the map. Years ago, in the early nineties, I drove from Port Angeles to Wenatchee, and from Olympia to Bellingham while living south of Seattle. From there I moved to Des Moines and continued my travels in a larger area that stretched from Kansas City to Lincoln to Cedar Rapids and sometimes beyond. Here in Denver I often commute up to one thousand miles in a week. While most of the country looks different wherever I go, some of the scenery sadly remains the same. It seems that no matter where I end up, there among the population is the face of our fellow man that suffers. Those in desperation eventually stand on the street corners of every city asking for a handout. They are more ignored than assisted, and they have lost the outlook that life is a gift, not a burden.
I must admit there was a time when I looked upon these “vagrants, bums, tramps, or beggars” with an attitude of indifference. I wished them no ill will, but I also felt there were places other than the local intersection that could be of benefit to someone with the fortitude to brave the elements and take an obvious daily dose of verbal abuse. My thoughts would always go in the same direction, “If these people could just focus the same energy on a slightly different life, then abundance would be forthcoming in ways they had only dreamed.” This opinion was coming from a man who was drinking constantly and had little to show for his efforts other than a messy apartment.
As time, and eventually sobriety strode on, my attitude toward this population softened, but for the most part it basically remained the same; that is until one day when I was listening to an audio program in my truck by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer. He was narrating a time when he and some colleagues were walking through New Orléans and happened across a homeless girl. Dr. Dyer gave her a hundred dollars and offered further assistance which she declined. His friends had tried to talk him out of giving her anything to begin with, stating that he was enabling her by handing over something that would most likely be used for self-destructive purposes. Up to this point had I agreed with his opposition, and then he said something very significant; something that changed my life in an instant. What he said was basically this, “This act of giving, without judging who is asking for it, is not between me and them, it’s between me and God. What they do with this gift is none of my business.” This struck a chord with me and it made sense. All of the sudden I was turned completely around in my attitude.
That particular day I was stuck in traffic approaching a corner where a regular guy had stood for more than a year asking for handouts. He greeted his potential source of income with a daily dose of positive energy; broadly smiling while waving and flashing the peace sign at everyone as they passed by. I moved over to his side of the road and rolled down my window to hand him some money. This was the first time in my life I had actually felt like giving to a total stranger.
“What’s your name?” I said as I handed him a five.
“You make me smile every time I see you. You may not believe this but a few years ago I was damn near in the same boat you’re in, so please don’t give up hope; I’m glad I didn’t.”
On my way home I stopped at a convenience store and bought some junk food along with a one dollar scratch ticket. It turned out to be a hundred dollar winner. I couldn’t stop laughing because the five I had given away was nothing to me, scrap paper in my pocket that, knowing my habits, would probably end up in the washing machine. Fast karma and a fast lesson. I carry one dollar bills with me now to spread the wealth, but the police are cracking down on panhandling more than they used to so my opportunities are much less than they were.
Over time I would talk to Brian and encourage without criticizing or preaching, but the day came when he simply wasn’t there; and I waited. Six months went by and someone else eventually took over his spot. Finally I worked up the courage to ask the girl, whom I had gotten to know a little, if she knew what happened to him.
“Why yes! He’s off the streets now. Brian cleaned himself up and is working full-time.” As positive as I am, I was still stunned; flabbergasted actually. Wow! One in a thousand, maybe more. This news made my week. I was relieved he was ok. I’m sure he never knew but his resolve served to inspire me even further. If the opportunity to thank him in person ever arises I will do so with great enthusiasm.
When I look at these faces now all I see is a person of potential and someone who has misplaced a connection to the ability of re-creating and improving upon their best moment. Was it on some forgotten playground, as an innocent child lost in mindless play? Maybe it was their first kiss? Perhaps it was the time they first hugged their puppy knowing that this love would never go away? Maybe it was something as simple as watching a sunset. All of us have these types of memories and most attempt to build on them, but some lose their way. If someone is standing on the street corner and asking for help, do they need help? The answer is ALWAYS yes. It’s never no. DO NOT ask yourself if you think they did it to themselves or not, it does not matter. As far as I’m concerned this observation is an inarguable point. Granted, the help they need may not be what they want, but they do need help. It’s sad that in a country like the United States, where there is more abundance in our gutters than there is in many other parts of the world, that there are people who are completely blind to what literally lies at their feet.
If we all come from the same place and are destined to end eventually up where we started, why must we insist on separating ourselves between these two events? Is it our duty of the spirit to bridge this gap and repair the rift that breeds selfishness and greed? It is at least for me, and I plan to continue proving by example that our connection to each other is the secret to a life of fulfillment and peace. What good is a life of prosperity if I never share it or at the very least, show others how I got there?
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With Love and Compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood