Tag Archives: homelessness

Seize the moment: This Sucks!

While in Chicago today, I had time to enjoy the beautiful weather, Millenium Park and the overall flavor of this place.  Chicago is a glorious city with incredible history, sights, sounds, smells and great people!  I took the opportunity to walk down Michigan Avenue today washed in sun and cooled with a delightful breeze from the lake just two blocks east.   A caffeine supplement  was in order at the local Caribou Coffee.  Everyone inside exhibited that wonderful midwestern friendliness not found in many of the large cities around this country.  For a moment it felt like Winston-Salem.   As I started my leisurely walk down Michigan Avenue with that coffee, I noticed the sign.  It said, “This Sucks.”  The sign was held by a 18 or 19 year-old homeless kid sitting on the sidewalk at the corner of Michigan and Madison. 

 Across the street sits Millenium Park, a beautiful example of urban art and development promoting community and fellowship.  My moment of calm bliss was broken as I looked at this kid and his sign.  He was clearly no older than my eldest son James.  Something told me to stop, watch, evaluate and try to understand this kid. So, I perched myself on a tree planter bordering Michigan Avenue about 50 feet away and proceeded to watch him.  This act embarrassed me.  Was I enjoying the plight of this kid?  Why did I have the curosity to watch as he begged for money using a sign with the handwritten message, “This Sucks?”  It was clear to me that he was homeless.  His clothes were tattered.  A bath is something which he most likely had not seen of recent.  He had tattoos on both arms, piercings in his ears and unkempt hair which was in need of both a cut and shampoo.  He had a backpack next to him which contained whatever his worldly possessions might be and a hat flipped upside down on the sidewalk in front of him.  He appeared well fed, but who knows for sure.  I smiled a few times as his strategy of positioning the sign was more prominent for any female approaching.  When he saw women walking either north or south on Michigan Avenue, he would angle the sign so that it was directly visible to them.  He was less aggressive when men approached his position.  I was ashamed of my many thoughts about this kid.  Why are you begging when you could easily clean yourself up and get a job at McDonalds or any other place needing someone to do basic work?  Are you just trying to look pitiful and play on the emotions of those passing you?  He was quite successful in that area!  Then, it hit me.  If he had  parents or extended family, why would they not intervene in his life?  Maybe they cared, but he rejected their efforts or they might have rejected him for whatever reason.  At one point, an older man stopped and asked him where he lived.  His youthful smile as he responded reminded me of my son’s smile as he might respond to any casual or funny situation.  I overheard him say, “I sleep wherever I can find a place in Millenium Park.”  My son goes to bed every night in his own room, in his bed surrounded by a loving family.  This boy, for whatever reason, does not.  This just sucks! 

My curiosity consumed the next two hours.  I watched any number of people respond to his plight.  Two guys dressed in costumes advertising Hershey chocolates stopped and filled his hat with pieces of candy.  He quickly pocketed this and anything placed in it so that no one else might take what was given to him.  I watched as various people stopped and provided a few dollars. The disdaining stares of many bothered me.  But, a city the size of Chicago is full of those seeking help.  He just happened to be one of the youngest I have seen so far.  Some purposefully walked very close to this boy and gave him a hateful stare.  A few even taunted him and his situation.  He just smiled everytime.  I could see that he noticed me.  He occassionally looked my way with a question in his eye.  I could tell he wondered why I was sitting on that planter facing his direction.  I felt a great sense of not knowing what I could do to help him.  Should I hand him money, offer my hotel room for a shower and a hot meal?  These and many other thoughts went through my head.  As the afternoon progressed, the chill in the air increased.  He was getting cold and pulled on a hoody to shield himself from the breeze while continuing to hold his sign.  At one point, I looked away to watch a comotion in Millenium Park.  When I turned around, he was gone.  I had done nothing to help him. 

At this moment, I am writing this blog from the comfort of my 4 star hotel one block away from Millenium Park.  I’ve had a great meal and enjoying the comforts of the historic Palmer House Hotel.  I can only imagine this kid is trying to find a place in the park to sleep where he might not be bothered by police or other homeless people.  Somewhere away from the cool lake breeze.  Definitely not on one of the many park benches which have been fitted with petitions making them impossible to use as beds. 

Why am I writing about this?  Maybe its the guilt I feel for not taking more action to help those who cannot help themselves?  Maybe its a guilt of worrying more about what I have and how to keep it?  Maybe its the guilt, I have as a Christian,  for not understanding the meaning of sacrifice?  At dinner tonight I reflected on the concept of sacrifice.  What is real sacrifice as a Believer in Christ?  Is it fasting and giving up a few meals, is it a mediocre contribution to my church or is it taking one day out of the month to work on behalf of others?  Or is it, taking personal  risk to champion issues for those who cannot standup for themselves, giving my personal financial resources at a level which require me to lower my many “wants” to meet other’s needs or just sitting down next to this kid, praying for and with him, showing him the love of Christ.  At the very least, I should have done this and to heck with those walking by who would have thought I might be crazy. Many reading this might explain away the issue of homelessness.  Its there, its real and many issues contribute to the problem.  But, should Christians explain away the problem as one that those impacted should bear the burden?  I think not!

Not long ago, I was talking about health equity issues with a church friend.  He smiled at me and said, “you sound like one of those radicals.”  That comment shocked me since I have always been somewhat of a right winger politically.  But, when you think about Christ and His time on the earth confronting the issues of this world,  He most likely would be classified as a radical.  Maybe each one of us needs to think about how we can “radicalize” our faith to make a difference.  Our hope is not in this world today, but in the eternal life which Christ offers each of us.  Thanks for reading my ramblings!

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