Last summer I took my family to see the Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. They looked at pictures and watched videos of the Arch and were really excited to go. That excitement quickly turned to anxiety once we stood at the base of the Arch and looked up. They were overwhelmed by the magnitude of it, something pictures just couldn’t convey.
On a recent trip I had to go to New Orleans on business. My hotel was just outside the French Quarter. In my off time I wandered the streets taking in the sights and sounds. Of course, the one thing that stood out to me was the homeless. Louisiana is a warm weather state so the homeless have no need for shelters to get out of the cold. They live on the streets as they do in many large cities. They basically sleep wherever they lay down in whatever protection they have.
I have been to cities that have far worse homeless problems. I had just come from New York City where they do have to deal with the elements. I have also been to countries where homelessness was the norm for the majority. I have spent time in Chittagong, Bangladesh where the average yearly income was less than $200. Most Americans have no idea how good we truly have it here.
My heart hurts for these people. I wish I could help every one of them live a respectable life. I know there is a reason most of them are where they are and that no amount of help can ever help them. The locals are used to these people so they pass by without even as much as a glance. The tourists are too busy with their sightseeing, liquor, and music to much care. It is almost as if these people were invisible.
“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” – Mother Theresa
There was one man I always saw on my walks. He moved about from place to place but was always in the area. He always looked the same. He sat cross legged, with his back against a building. His head was always down and he held a hat in his hands for people to put money in. He never looked up. He never said anything to anyone. He just sat.
On my last night in town I found this man. He was in one of his usual spots sitting in his usual style. I rarely carry cash on me but I put the little I had in his hat. He made no motion to take it out. Then I asked him his name. He slowly raised his head to look at me.
“Jeffrey,” he said in a low voice.
I extended my hand, smiled, and said, “It is a pleasure to meet you Jeffrey.”
At first there was amazement in his eyes. Did I really want to touch him? Then he smiled and shook my hand.
I could not give him more money but what I had to offer was probably more important. I recognized him as a person. I treated him with dignity and not as trash left on the curb.
On the way back to the hotel thoughts of Saint Theresa of Calcutta flooded my mind. Saint Theresa, an Albanian woman of tiny stature, grew increasingly disturbed by the poverty that surrounded her in Calcutta. She chose to live among the poor and care for the sick and dying, the people cast aside and thrown out on the streets like garbage. She formed the Missionaries of Charity and was joined by twelve other religious sisters to care for the poorest of the poor in India. By the time she died Mother Theresa operated 517 missions in over 100 countries with more than 4500 sisters dedicated to her cause.
It started with one tiny woman who heard the call within the call.
All of a sudden, I was back standing under the St. Louis Arch looking up.