Open Wound in Paradise

Just returned from a fun vacation in San Diego with my two boys. Many beautiful memories run through my head of boats, bikes, the beach, Legoland, and the zoo. Special moments with my children inspire me to plan more vacations and outings, but in the midst of all this joy, my heart feels heavy. Not because anything is wrong in my life. It’s something in all of our lives that I haven’t been exposed to on a daily basis since moving to northern California to live in a small rural town. It’s not that this element of life doesn’t exist here, it’s just not as obvious because I don’t live in a place with tons of city streets or big tourist areas.

homeless-man-sleeping-on-sidewalk-in-prado-centro-medellin-colombia2It’s been years since I’ve walked or driven down the streets of a big busy city and I had forgotten about the overwhelming presence of homeless. When I clicked on the little box on the webpage to rent a bike and visit a museum along the shimmering ocean side, I didn’t think about the people who’d be sleeping on the sidewalk along the way. I forgot they’d be there. I wouldn’t have done anything differently in planning my vacation, but I would have prepared myself emotionally and I would have prepared my children better.

I know there are homeless people everywhere, but it’s different in some places. I’ve become used to the man or woman at the street corner with a cardboard sign asking for money, food, etc. They’re not on every corner, but they are present. I’ve been approached by homeless while ordering food at a fast food restaurant and while walking to my car outside of a grocery store. There are many homeless people outside of the public library and near convenience stores and sometimes I feel nervous when entering or leaving those places, but nothing has ever happened. Just the uncomfortable feeling I get when I say “no” to the occasional request for money.

Maybe the presence of homeless shouldn’t affect a vacation, but maybe it should. Forgetting they are there seems to be what I do to cope with the homeless and I feel bad about that. While riding down the sidewalk along the beach in my nice rented bike, enjoying our ice cream cones, we passed by homeless people about every fifteen to twenty feet. I couldn’t believe how many there were. Most were sleeping. Some were asking for money. Some were chatting with other homeless people. One had a sign that said, “Ass, Gas, or Grass”. My ten year old really wanted to know what that one meant. I did my best at explaining.

I tried not to see them and I feel bad admitting that. I have a friend that will approach homeless and start a conversation. I’ve never had the guts or compassion to do that. I feel bad about that too. I have given money out on occasion and I’ve donated to different causes, but nothing seems to feel like enough, especially after this trip. One homeless man who was hunched over on the ground next to his grocery cart had a huge open wound on his leg the size of a large grapefruit. It looked infected. He looked dead. I stopped the bike and walked closer to him to see if his chest was moving. I thought about tapping his shoulder, but I was afraid. His chest moved. I returned to the bike and sat. I didn’t know what to do. It didn’t feel right to just leave, but it didn’t feel right to wake him. So I rode until I found a security guard and I told him about the man. He said there was nothing he could do. He knew about the man and said that he refuses any kind of help. Shocked, I went on my way and tried to forget.

I can’t forget.

I keep wondering if he’s okay and why he won’t get help. I keep thinking I should have given him some water, food, and first aid items. I wish I had.

I recently watched a video on about an experiment with a freezing child on a busy city sidewalk. The young child, who was wearing only jeans, a torn up t-shirt and a trash bag, stood and laid on the sidewalk for over two hours while several people walked by him with their warm jackets, boots and gloves. Not one person stopped to help him. Not one. I cried. I never want to be one of those people who was blind to a suffering human, let alone a child. The only person who came to the child’s aide was a homeless man sitting across from the boy. He gave him his jacket. I cried. Watch the video if you haven’t yet.

The open wound on that man’s leg made me realize that what I do in regards to homeless people leaves me with an open wound in my heart. I want to do more. I’m not sure what exactly, but walking by people who are suffering and in need and trying not to see them is not working. A quote from viral4real, “If you wait until you can do everything for everybody, instead of something for somebody, you’ll end up doing nothing for nobody.”

I think the blessing bags are a good idea and that’s where I’ll start. It’s not much, but maybe it will heal a few wounds.