I’m very excited to share with you not only another great post from my sister, Shan, but the first installment of her monthly column. Woot! Her guest post from last month was hugely popular for good reason. With no further introduction, here’s the our parents’ favorite with another great post!
I wonder who is taking care of the homeless in my conservative southern town. Tonight I tried to go for a walk downtown and ended up giving a homeless woman and her walmart bags of clothes a ride from the park where she thought she’d seen a man hiding in the trees with a video camera. When I drove away from the corner where she asked me to drop her, I couldn’t figure out why, in a town with literally hundreds of churches, I couldn’t think of a single good place to take her at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday night.
When Rich Mullins introduced the vernacular of Jesus being a homeless man over a decade ago, the idea of homelessness meant little to me. The more loftily worded usually just say, “this world was not his home, he was just passing through”, but the truth is just that there were a good 15 years when his body was homeless. He lived on the streets. Slept in the bottom of fishing boats. Ate what his friends could scrounge up.
It would be a gross exaggeration to say that I was ever homeless in the cardboard-box-city sense of the word. There was a time, though, when I slept and washed and ate in some creative places. I was asked to leave parking lots by police officers at 3 am so often that how to answer their questions to avoid more became a science. If you ever find yourself in a borrowed minivan in search of a good night’s sleep, I recommend a 24 hour Walmart; that was in turn recommended to me by the cop who was very politely asking me to leave the church parking lot where I was snuggling down in the van at midnight.
After the emotional angst and drama and uncertainty of those days boiled down over time, I’ve been left with the simple physical memories of those days and nights. My hair always felt gross when I fell asleep (I almost never go to sleep without washing my hair now, as a result). The first breath of non-stagnant air when I opened the window in the morning was like drinking moonlight – but it always made me keenly aware of my need for a toothbrush.
Jesus had to smell pretty ripe. I live in a day of gas station bathrooms and hand sanitizer and I tended to smell like a fine, aged gouda entirely too often. The man had to smell – on a good day when he was at the lake he was taking naps in dirty fishing nets, for pete’s sake (I’m going to give you a minute to consider that this may be the best possible application of that phrase). There had to be a “finely aged” odor to him.
Entire religions have been based around this man’s life and death, yet he was a homeless wanderer. What might it have been like to be a person who offered him a hot shower, a spare toothbrush and toothpaste, clean towels, a bottle of pantene and a cool bed for the night? What might it have been like to give him a ride to a place where he could find those things?
Every time I’ve given a ride to someone who seems to be carrying all their earthly possessions with them, I’ve been keenly aware that this might turn out to be the type of stranger that we’re warned to avoid as children. While some “have entertained angels unaware”, some have also been knifed, robbed and left for dead before they knew what hit them. Not every homeless man is the son of god. Apparently, though, sometimes they are and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to let some BO and matted hair keep me from getting to put a glass of water in his calloused hands. Why then, did I leave a young woman on a dark street corner, instead of offering her a place to stay for the night? The reasons are many and range from that knifed-and-left-for-dead scenario to simple fear that I might sound creepy and get maced. I can do without the mace. The question, though, is one I don’t want to let myself accept simple answers to.
I haven’t napped on fishing nets, but I remember washing my hair in the sink at the gas station. I need to ask myself why I don’t carry small kits with shampoo and toothpaste and chapstick and purrell in them to give to people that might be heading to a sink themselves.
“Sarah” told me tonight that she hoped Jesus would bless me. Since she then shut the door to my Jeep to keep the air conditioning in, I think it’s safe to say the issue is whether being homeless even for a short time taught me a damned thing about how blessed I already am. And it begs the question, “Now what, Shan?”
I need to wonder why I’m not taking care of the homeless in my small southern town.