What can I do? March 20 2016 1 Comment
Recently a dishevelled, thin senior man was sitting on a bench outside the drugstore I was approaching. He asked a young woman walking past if she could spare some change. She gave him a disgusted, "so-far-beneath-me" look.
About six feet away from the gentleman, a dog was tethered to a pole, its owner presumably shopping inside.
As the young woman rushed past, the look of disdain on her face transformed into a bright smile, with cooing noises for the dog.
The proximity of the dog and the hurting man and the dramatically different reactions they evoked from the same passer-by made me think that we often have a kinder response to an animal than to a person – both unknown to us, in the same place, at the same time, hoping for the same thing - attention, a kind word and perhaps something to eat.
A few months ago, I was with my husband in a downtown hospital emergency room. A homeless man there sought Rick out and started talking with him. Rick listened attentively and chatted easily with him as though he were our next door neighbour.
For all his life, Rick has worked with and befriended people in need. They gravitate to him, everywhere, all the time, sensing, I guess, his compassion.
For me, it often is more difficult. The gentleman in the ER with us smelled so badly that I was literally gagging. Rick noticed and told me I should move. I said that moving seemed rude. He assured me it was ok. Still, I felt guilty: It wasn't the man’s fault that he smelled, given that having mental health issues and no home means getting a shower is difficult.
Another gag and I decided moving was preferable to creating a scene vomiting -especially since Rick was supposed to be the patient.
I am no expert on poverty and homelessness. I suspect that the answer to "What can I do?" will be different for each of us. Regardless, I think empathy is essential, and disdain has no place.
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