A Place Called Compassion: Where Judgment Goes to Die
This past weekend, I had an eye-opening experience that set me back on my heels. After spending a beautiful weekend away in Newport, RI, with friends, I was feeling especially blessed. The weather was beautiful, the food fantastic, and the conversation even better. I was basking in the glow as Rick, and I checked out and prepared for our trek home.
As we crossed the parking lot, I noticed a slightly grizzled looking man sitting back in a lawn chair looking quite proud of himself. There around him in a perfect rectangle were four strategically placed plastic buckets, each boasting the word “HOMELESS” in bold black marker. I couldn’t imagine that anyone would give him anything, since the way he was set up made him appear, to me at least, a fraud.
Who am I to Judge?
Once home, I dropped Rick off before heading on to Schenectady to pick up my dog, Kye. I sighed when only a few miles from my destination, I found myself in the middle of a construction zone. Tapping my fingers restlessly on the steering wheel, I waited as I sized up a man who stood about seven cars ahead of me holding up a HOMELESS sign. At first, I rolled my eyes, and a little voice in the back of my mind muttered, McDonald’s is hiring. (I know; judgment.) But as I watched him, there seemed something vaguely familiar in his stance. After a few more minutes, I dug into my wallet and found five dollar bills.
The man must have heard the whirring of my window rolling down because he began shuffling toward me. As he approached, warnings flashed through my head: Put your purse in the backseat, and your phone in the glove compartment. This guy could be a nut. As he got closer, I noted that he was probably in his mid-thirties. His jeans were dirty, and his heavy work boots in need of replacement. The limp that caused him to list almost dangerously to the right stirred a distant memory – one that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
With obvious caution, the man sidled to my window, where I handed him the crumpled bills. His voice was soft when he said, “Thank you, ma’am. God bless.” As he began to turn away, I experienced a visceral shock. From the man’s forehead, down over his temple, across his cheekbone, and extending to his jaw was a scarred indentation that had to be close to half an inch deep. His left eye was thick with a white film leading me to believe he is blind in that eye. I’ll never know if he sustained an injury while in the service or if he was in an accident, but as he shuffled away, I realized why he initially looked familiar.
You see, back when I was in high school, there was a young man who was on the fast track to becoming a superstar. Not only was he incredibly good-looking with his blond hair and blue eyes, he was also a straight-A student and an excellent athlete. He was “going places.” But one cold winter morning while he was shoveling the steps in front of his childhood home, a huge icicle slid off the roof and pierced his skull. A freak accident changed that young man’s life in an instant. Gone were any offers of either academic or athletic scholarships. Instead, his family was hunting down services to assist their irreversibly brain-damaged son. The last time I saw him was about ten years ago when I recognized him by his shuffle as he listed dangerously to the right, just the same as the homeless man this past Sunday.