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Human Too

A half-day of homeless ministry in Downtown Atlanta does much to correct your perceptions.

I've written a lot about what it means to be human. It's one of my favorite subjects, because it's endlessly fascinating; the idea that we, the human race, so varied and multifaceted in our makeup, still share so much in common - well, it's a writer's dream. Usually, my observations come from reading things people write - magazine articles, books, blogs, comments on blogs - but this past Saturday, I took a group of people into Atlanta to work with Seven Bridges to Recovery, a Christian group that works with the homeless.

We went all over the city, into places that the average person would never dare go, not for any reason. Under bridges. Into abandoned apartment complexes. Down streets with nothing but abandoned houses. Everywhere we went, the result was the same: people, beaten down by life, coming out of the woodwork for a simple grocery sack and a hug.

The cynic might read this and say, "Well, they are where they are because of the choices they've made."

The cynic is right. Several of the people we met on Saturday have made excruciatingly bad choices. In some instances, appallingly bad choices. Some even confessed to their dysfunctional lives with candor.

Said one man, formerly a professional boxer, "This isn't what I wanted for my life. But I didn't choose very well. It's all on me."

But the cynic also needs to stand, shoulder to shoulder, with them and know that not everyone gets the same kind of choices. The cynic needs to hug someone who has HIV, and hear that person say, "You're the first person without gloves on to touch me in three years." The cynic needs to look into the eyes of a young woman who, along with her 18 month old daughter, takes a meager sack of food with great shame, not because she's made bad choices but because she doesn't feel like she's worthy of making good ones. The cynic needs to see a book, well-worn and marked with notes, lying beside a flimsy cardboard bed, held open by a pair of discarded women's reading glasses, reminding anyone with eyes enough to see that even the most destitute still have minds and souls that need nourishment.

The cynic, as is often the case, needs to get out more.

I stood underneath bridges and smelled the overwhelming stench of human desperation. I watched as men, drunk by midday, sheepishly took a bag with a juice bottle, bag of Funyuns, and a tiny sandwich as if it were a five-star meal. I prayed over a woman named Missy who was so high on crack that she couldn't speak a coherent sentence; whose body was so ravaged by her addictions that she only had half her top teeth and half her bottom teeth, neither on the same side. Her face was contorted hideously just to line up one top and one bottom tooth in order to take a bite.

What we did was stare into the face of a problem that we can't possibly begin to fix. Some people can't be saved - I know that. But some people can be. And if handing out sack lunches, hugs, and a reminder that the homeless are human, too, might bring one person off the streets, then it's well worth it.

It was for our guide on Saturday, a young man named Jay who'd previously been homeless for over a decade. He was once an addict too. He's been clean, sober, and off the streets for almost six months, thanks to Seven Bridges. He told the group on Saturday, "Today is my 170th day off them streets, tomorrow is 180, and that's huge."

He also told us, "Them people, they need love too, y'all. A little love can do a lot, if you'll show it."

He was right - a little love goes a long way.

We'll go back in October, and on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, re-issuing humanity one sack lunch and hug at a time. We meet on the last Saturday of the month at 10:30 at my church, if you'd be interested in going.

It's amazing, but true: in making other people feel human, you feel human, too.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lori Duff October 02, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Thank you for a beautiful post. It is such a sad, horrible cycle and it will make you crazy and sad just thinking about it. These people have made bad choices, and are living with the consequences, but how hard it is to turn it around? It is hard to beat addiction without treatment, and treatment requires accountability, which many of these folks find hard if not impossible to get. Not to mention the wherewithal it takes to get it -- someone who is actively high on crack is not going to be able to do the research to find a free clinic to fight his or her addiction, and the woman you describe obviously doesn't have the support system she needs to stay sober. It is hard to get a roof over your head without a job. How many of them recognize their mistakes and want to work, but don't have a clean set of clothes for an interview or a phone where a potential employer could call them and tell them they've got the job? How many of them are treated so poorly by the world they believe what they are told -- that they aren't worth saving. Not to even being to talk about how mental illness plays in to it. I don't pretend to know the answers. I just know that I believe in redemption, and the ability of people to learn from their bad choices and make good ones -- only some times that isn't so easy. The cynics, as you say, are right -- the answer is simple: "get a job". The problem is that "get a job" is such a complicated goal for some human beings.
Tammy Osier October 02, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Goes back to the old adage, "There but by the grace of God, go I". I've worked in homeless ministry, and the best thing to do is to love people, treat them with dignity, and never give up on them. Maybe by seeing your face time and time again, it may spark some hope in their heart and they'll reach out to receive help. All that's required of us is to love, not to judge. How can we judge when we have no idea what;s in a man's heart? So, just love them and obey the prompting of the Lord. He'll do the rest.
Tammy Osier October 02, 2012 at 02:47 AM
I liked what you said about the smallest things being huge. I worked in jail ministry with someone who thought that she had to "do more". I told her, "Look. Live a day in their shoes. Just the fact the you SHOW UP week after week to see them means something. You show them consistency, and becasue of that, they may at some point come to the conclusion that they are worth someone's time". That IS huge.
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