“Lonliness is one of the most universal sources of suffering today.”
We recently took a walk around downtown Pasadena and went into the famous Cliff’s Bookstore. Cliff is usually at the counter talking conspiracy with someone and that particular night, about halfway through our visit, he was joined by a man who parked his shopping cart outside. I’m not sure if they were friends or even acquaintances, but talk of politics and government corruption provided common conversational ground. They talked about taxes and parties and eventually soup cans – the man who had come in was carrying bags and bags of soup cans. The next day, Matt told me the man in the bookstore had been hanging around a gas station he’d stopped at a week earlier. He’d approached Matt and begun a conversation on baseball, a topic my husband knew nothing about. The man told Matt that he looked like a famous player and pressed his memory, hoping that they could relate on at least that much. But Matt still did know and they parted ways.
In both our encounters we found sufficient reason to assume the man was homeless. After all, he fit the profile: middle aged, rugged in appearance, black and traveling on foot. It is an unfair assumption, we admit, but gap between the affluent and impoverished in Pasadena is large enough to make the middle-of-the-road folk a rarity. (Ironically we fall into this category). Matt mentioned being nervous when the man had approached him and then embarrassed when he realized all he wanted was a conversation.
This prompted me to give the following remark to Matt:
“I don’t think that the homeless I’ve encountered often begin a conversation so that they might ask for money. It happens, sure, but ultimately it’s not very economic… I’ll bet that when someone does that, first begins a conversation and finally asks for money, that they are actually trying to fill two needs: first the satisfaction of human company, and then the need or want for money for whatever purposes. It’s not a wonder that the issues are addressed in that order – first, we tend to our loneliness.”
A girl said something that really hit me hard in class. The professor was asking us to consider who our "stranger" is. What she meant was who do we show hostility towards? who do we show the opposite of hospitality to?She said something more or less like, "To be honest... I am considering those who are homeless. I want to say that I don't actually have any 'hostility' toward them... I don't hate them... but the fact is, when I see someone sitting on the street with a cup or even just nothing, I find myself calculating a path around them. It's funny, because I know very well that, as a Christian, I probably ought to be looking for a path toward; in my love as a Christian and for God I ought to be looking for ways to I can provide, way I can meet their obvious needs."