“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40
I frequent a store by my house on the way to work in the morning. Most mornings several men are lined up waiting to buy beer and head across the street to sleep in the park. I often hear the judgemental comments of the other customers in the store as they watch these men purchase alcohol. It takes all I have inside of me not to school the people around me on compassion.
I think of the great actor Ronald Reagan and how he put hundreds of thousands of people in the streets with his great idea called deinstitutionalization. I think of all the Vietnam veterans that died because of his brilliant cost cutting idea to put these people out. I understand that there was a lot wrong with institutions but putting them on the streets was heartless and cruel.
Sometimes I hear, I’m not going to give the panhandler money because they’re only going to buy alcohol with it. I think, and sometimes have the courage to say, so what if they do?
Who are you to judge these people? I also want to say (or scream rather):
Have you ever had voices in your head scream at you to kill yourself or someone else?
Have you ever endured physical/sexual/emotional abuse?
Have you ever watched your father beat/murder your mother?
Have you ever watched someone die in war?
Have you ever had to kill someone in war?
Have you ever known depression so deep and dark that there is no light?
Have you ever thought for one moment that no one says they want to be an alcoholic sleeping in a park when they grow up?
Have you ever thought that if they don’t get the alcohol they could die from withdrawals?
Have you ever considered that they alcohol is their medicine?
Do you know how hard it is to get mental health treatment in this country?
Would you judge me the same way when I pick up my Lexapro at the pharmacy?
Are you a professional in substance abuse treatment?
Sometimes people who have endured abuses or mental illness say: I didn’t turn to alcohol or drugs so I don’t understand why they did?
I respond: But for the grace of God go you. But, each life is different and we’re not given the same opportunities or bridges out of the darkness. I hope you are grateful for all that has been given to you in this life. I also hope that you are able to extend compassion to those who suffer greatly.
I had lunch with my favorite professor yesterday and she said the simplest and most profound statement (as she always does): Slow down your thinking.
My prayer for these men and women sleeping in the park is that I hope you find peace in your sleep. I hope your dreams are filled with the joys robbed from you in this world.
“In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” –Mother Teresa