“The people in the parks, the alcoholics, the homeless, they are looking at you. Do not be those who look and do not see.” -Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
I recently returned from a business trip to Nashville. It was a great time spent with friends, many of which, I get to see just once a year.
That morning, as I left the hotel, not willing to pay 13.95 a day for Internet access, I walked a short couple of blocks to the Panera, where they have free Wi-Fi.
As I left the hotel, I made eye contact with the only person walking on the sidewalk at that early hour, and from her clothes and disheveled look, I could tell she was homeless. The second I noticed her, I quickly turned my head, looked away and made my way quickly down the sidewalk.
“Excused me sir, excuse me,” she said in a loud voice, as I kept on walking. “Excuse me, sir,” she said again. And, as she repeated it for the third time, she was standing right next to me. Grudgingly, I acknowledge her.
“Can you tell me what time it is?” She asked.
“7:30,” I replied.
“Thank You,” she said, and then she began her story. “I’m from Bristol, you know, near the race track. I’ve been in Nashville for over a year. There is no work here.”
It was a familiar story. Working with the homeless, I’ve heard it many times. The story is always followed by a request for money. It seems rehearsed, but I guess it become that way when your only means of eating is begging for money.
I asked her a few questions as we briskly walked,”Do you know where the nearest shelter is?” “Have you had anything to eat?” I’ve asked these questions many times to the homeless folks I have encountered over the years, but frankly, this time, I wasn’t interested in the answers.
By then, I had made it to my destination, and as I did, I turned, handed her a $20 dollar bill and walked away.
It only took a minute to realize what had just happened. During our walk, I never made eye contact with her. I was distant, judgmental, and aloof. Sure, I gave her money, but the thing she needed most, my attention, I denied her.
I remember that Mother Theresa (my personal hero) used to “see the face of Jesus” in every homeless person she met. “Minister to the Jesus in front of you,” she would say.
The money might help this woman with her next meal, but my time and attention would have been a greater gift. I missed a chance to look into the face of our Lord.
Lord, help me to see your face in everyone I meet.
*This story originally was posted on March 6, 2011. It was hurriedly written and unedited. I rewrote the story because I wanted to include it in a series of stories to be published in my upcoming book.*