pink bundle under a bridge

At first, I think it’s a pile of garbage covered by a pink blanket. My feet are slap-slapping the pavement and Moby is crooning in my ear. Above, a round yellow sun in a perfectly blue sky.

As I approach the bridge, I see that the garbage has two feet … and then I realize the garbage is a man huddled under the pink blanket on this gloriously sunny day.

My heart thud-thuds inside me; I will never get used to seeing the homeless. It’s not right. I prepare to cross the road and talk to the man; then I see another jogger heading towards me and suddenly I run past, pretending not to see.

Why did I do that? I wonder, staring at the way the river is licking hungrily at the shore. Why do I care if she sees? I turn around, determined to do the right thing.

Approach the pink pile of sleep. Another jogger emerges from the trees; I tense up— realize it’s another test. Reach out and touch the blanket. The body underneath moves. “Excuse me? Are you okay?” I ask, realizing that no, things weren’t okay, but not knowing what else to say.

A muffled voice. At first I don’t realize what he’s saying. I pat his arm. “Okay. God bless you.”

Start to jog away. Nearly stumble when I realize the man had said, “Got anything to eat?”

“God bless?!” I mock myself. What good is God without food? Spiritual food is futile without the physical.

Upon reaching my car I consider my options; I could go buy him a sandwich and not get myself a coffee this morning, or I could give him the pretzels and cantaloupe in my car and still have money for my coffee. I decide to go that route, and drive back to where the pink bundle lay.

Once again I approach him, pat the arm. “Hello?”

The body moves, an unshaved face appears from under the blanket and peers at me. “I brought you food,” I say, trying not to show my pleasure in this generous act of charity.

Nothing. The man merely hides back under the blanket and resumes sleeping. I feel disheartened. Does he not realize it took all of five minutes for me to drive back down here? That I’m giving up my precious pretzels and cantaloupe? I leave the items by him, head back to the car. Despite my disappointment there’s a welling sense of satisfaction. I’ve done what I can.

Sitting back in my car I wheel away and without warning, the tears come. What is the point of charity when it’s still all about myself? That man didn’t need my pity, my pretzels. He needed a home, a job, a second or third or fourth chance. What did I think I could do by feeding him? Keep him alive in order to feel hopeless for one more hour?

I pull into the cafe, order a coffee then sit there staring into its dark mirth realizing it doesn’t taste nearly as good as a sandwich would have to him. Even then, that wouldn’t have been enough.

What is enough? Where do we start and end in this endless cycle of pain? How do we love the pink bundles under our cities’ bridges?

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3 Comments

  1. Annie said,

    August 18, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    By responding. In our hearts, in deed, and in prayer, as you did. It’s a beautiful thing to be moved, as you were, even if by the haunting presence of suffering and neglect. It shows a compassion and Christ-likeness that God can work with. You were very candid about your “failures” in the situation (both internal and external), but in reality, you did do something. And it did something in you, too.

    I think the spiritual aspect of this problem does enter into the solution. It’s never just the physical, in lonely isolation. The one has direct bearing on the other. There are undealt with sins and consequences in the life of the man under the pink blanket, as well as those you recognized in your own life, and in all of ours. It all needs to be dealt with, encompassingly, or the whole problem won’t be resolved, and it will never be “enough.” It is true, though, the saying that “empty stomachs have no ears.”

    Just brainstorming – perhaps next time you (or anyone) approaches a pink bundle under a city bridge, you could have a ready stash of information in your car to share with them (along with any morsel of food), like a card or flyer or something on where they could go to get more help and connection. There are many admirable local and international organizations, started by compassionate individuals, which are expressly dedicated to extending a helping hand to the needy bundles of humanity among us. They have recognized the need to help people up and out of a poor existence, and into greater (true) richness of life. There was a place called the St. Francis House in Columbia, Missouri, devoted to doing just that. The Salvation Army is internationally known for providing a whole network of hands-on help and practical resources for those who need them.

    Alone, there is very little that any of us can do to be (or feel) 100% effective – besides respond – as you did. But that is something. And it can lead to more.

  2. Teneale said,

    August 20, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Hey Em, I know we talked about this already, but I just want to tell you that you never know what Gods will is, and you followed it by just going up to the man and showing him that you cared. Maybe you could have done more, but you certainly could have done less. I love you for the way you care about everyone. Hugs.

  3. abbagirl said,

    August 22, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    I have learned to never give up hope. Hope is all some people have. Pay it forward.


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