Faces on Faith: What would you have done?
I had the good fortune recently of taking a few days off to “change the scenery,” what many might call a short vacation. I traveled to the other coast and stayed on the beautiful beach of Fort Lauderdale, where every day began with a walk down Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard on a broad undulating sidewalk that is parallel to the scenic Atlantic Ocean. The path was populated with joggers and bikers and walkers of all shapes, sizes and ages, as well as more than a few four-legged friends, all enjoying the early morning sunrise and gorgeous scenery. Everyone seemed so casual and carefree!
Everyone, that is, except for the man at the beach entrance across from the Casablanca Cafe. He was there every day, and it would have been easy to take no notice of him, but it was clear that he was homeless and his morning beach routine included showering the previous day’s dirt and grime off at one of the many free showers provided to wash the sand off of beachgoers. I was happy that he had a shower to start his day; I was sad to think that there are so many people who have to live their days on streets that don’t provide the basic necessities of life.
I was reminded of a little book I was recently given, “52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables” by Bob Welch. In Lesson 31 the author speaks of the character Gavroche, the happy little street urchin who chose to be homeless because he never felt wanted or loved anywhere else.
In describing his character, Victor Hugo said “his father never thought of him, and his mother did not love him.” Indeed, “he was one of those children so deserving of pity above all others, who have fathers and mothers and yet are orphans.” Hugo went on to say that “this little boy never felt so happy as when in the street.
For him the pavement was not so hard as the heart of his mother. His parents had kicked him out into life. He had simply taken flight.” Of Gavroche, Hugo states “he had no shelter, no food, no fire, no love, but he was lighthearted because he was free.”
Bob Welch cautions us not to forget the humanity of the homeless, for they are “not unlike better-off people” except that they have taken to the streets. They have a name, and a history, and while they travel so light, they have so much baggage that weighs them down and keeps them a prisoner of the streets.
“How easy it is to look at the homeless and forget their humanity; to forget that each came crying into this world like us. That each was created by the same God as us. That each, when young, harbored dreams like us.”
Did I take enough notice of the homeless man showering? Did I dismiss his humanity by looking the other way and choosing to focus on the natural beauty all around him? Did I really care what his name was, what his story was, or where he had spent the night? I am still not sure what lesson I was supposed to learn, for in the midst of all my guilty feelings I still feel like the priest in the story of the Good Samaritan who on seeing an injured man did nothing but “walk by.” What would you have done?