Friday, January 02, 2009

Reflections of insignificance

As I walked into Albertson's, I could see a man out of the corner of my eye. I could see he was looking at me. He was unshaven and slightly unkempt...I would assume homeless. I continued walking toward the store, looking straight ahead and continuing my phone conversation.

"Hey," I heard.

Here it comes. Someone hitting me up for something...again. I kept walking and talking.

"Janet," he continued.

I turned my head and had to focus a minute. His face looked familiar, but he was much skinnier than I remembered. "Jonathan*!" I exclaimed, and gave him a hug.

I ended my phone conversation so I could talk to him.

"How was your Christmas?" he asked.

"Pretty good. Yours?"

With a shrug of his shoulders, he replied, "It's over."

I hadn't seen him in a while so I asked where he was these days. "Here and there," he explained, but then went on to tell me how he had found this fenced in overhang behind XYZ restaurant that was a covered area that provided safety and protection from the weather. He asked if I would mind picking him up a few things while I was in the store. "Sure!" I replied.

He started explaining how he had figured out how to make his meals work as cheaply as possible and began telling me the few items he needed. I didn't see the point (or the dignity) in leaving him outside while I purchased food so I asked him to walk with me and get what he needed. We chatted and caught up as we walked through the store. He explained his purchases. A loaf of bread...the cheapest brand. A package of individual chip bags because he can eat a bag in a sitting and the ants don't get to them. A 12-pack of sodas for the same reason...plus, he explained, the canned soda doesn't go flat. Preserving meat is a little tricker, he explained. He picked up a package of hot links and informed me about the lasting effect of the sausage. He said he could make two packages last a while and asked if it was okay to get two packages.

After buying the groceries, he asked if I would mind dropping him off at a location around the corner. He explained that a guy was allowing him to store his stuff in a back shed...but the man was real particular about him being discreet so he didn't want me to take him all the way to the house. Jonathan chuckled at his own situation. "Some homeless-looking guy walks toward this house, but he's not stealing anything, he's actually taking groceries in! How can you be discreet about that?!" he wondered aloud.

He wished me a Happy New Year and said he would come visit our new After-School Academy as he unloaded his stuff and proceeded to walk down the street to his storage area.

As I drove off, I realized that to anyone else that may have looked like a good deed--lady walks into the store, says hi to a homeless man, buys his groceries, and takes him home...a good deed during the holidays.

To me, however, it was reason for thoughtful reflection about the way we see (or don't see) people who are "insignificant" to us.

My personal "policy" most of the time is that I don't give money to requests from random people. I try to stay focused on the kids and teenagers I know who are working toward some personal goal(s). But it's not people like Jonathan's fault that I don't know them. It's my own fault.

As we enter the new year, I need to reflect on my own efforts toward meeting and interacting with those who would, otherwise, be "insignificant" to me.

*not his real name
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