They hate us.
That’s what she said, the lady standing by the bathroom door.
I was on a date with my five-year-old daughter, Eden. We went to Chuck E. Cheese, a movie which she decided half-way through was altogether unimpressive so we left. We decided to switch plans and walk around downtown Dallas spending some time at a park. After running and playing hide-and-go-seek with the ferocity only Eden can muster, she needed to go pee. We walked over to the bathroom that was in the park, and as I walked up, the lady living on the street told me,
“That bathroom is closed.
They hate us.”
This statement worked on me at several levels. I think it evoked a place of empathy and also a place of indignation if I’m honest. I stopped and asked myself the question, do they really hate you? Who is they anyway? Am I they?
As we stood there, the woman quickly hurried away, and another woman told me to take my daughter across the street to the nice restaurant. She said, “They’ll let you in.”
She was very kind, but her tone implied that they would trust me to take my daughter in their restaurant, even though the same hospitality wouldn’t be shown to her.
These quick moments of simple, but fairly deep encounters with the complexity of poverty had me thinking.
Part of me wanted to sit down and have a conversation with the lady and assure her they don’t hate you…don’t allow yourself to be a victim. Part of me could actually see why she felt that way. Over time, there would be a mounting pile of evidence that would make her case: the bathrooms unavailable to her, the people quickly and cautiously walking by. Life from her vantage point would be: no one cares and I’m not valuable.
When I walked into the restaurant, I was again conflicted. I understood why an owner wouldn’t allow homeless people to continually go in and out of their restaurant. Surely that liberty could get abused. Then another part of me felt guilty that the hostess so quickly showed me the way to the bathroom so that my daughter could finally go pee (which at this point was clear she had to GO).
So Eden went into the bathroom and came out excited with a renewed sense of energy to tackle any further ensuing events in our night out.
In light of this renewed energy, we decided to walk down the street to see a bizarre bit of art in Dallas, a giant eyeball sitting on a lawn. When we got there, Eden let me know after observation that this eyeball was quite certainly the eyeball of Jesus. I refrain from trying to convince her otherwise as I knew it would be a futile attempt.
Finally, skipping back to our car, a man asked us for money. He quickly said, “I’m sorry. I don’t want to be interrupting what you’re doing. I know you’re with your daughter.” I told him I had no money, and for a moment, we exchanged some conversation. I decided to stop and sit down just to get to know the man.
His name was Simeon. Simeon was very pleasant and articulate. He shared about his history almost qualifying for me that he was a decent person who had done well in seasons of his life. Of course in my mind, I’m thinking, you don’t have to qualify for me—we all have ups and downs. As the conversation progresses, we share our mutual experiences of loneliness and rejection.
In this moment, it’s as if we can both see that although our circumstances are different, some of our desires and fears are really similar. Simeon began to share how no one stops to talk, listen or even care—and thanks me for talking to him. I guess he thought this was an inconvenience to me, but I actually enjoyed listening to his story and valued my time with him.
Before we left, I gave him my number and prayed for him briefly. I told him to call me if he needed a friend. He began crying—because of such a simple, brief interaction.
God is present in the love of our listening.
As I walked away, I became thoughtful of the reality that I am no hero, and maybe heroes aren’t exactly what we need. I mean, maybe some changes can be made just to help the woman not feel that the world hates her.
But, I don’t think it’s just about the societal or even personal solutions that we come up with. Maybe, it’s about small faithful moments of love demonstrated over long periods of time. And maybe, more than anything, people need to experience the presence of God in the presence of another.
Could the act of listening be so profound as to restore some sense of value or worth?
As I laid down with Eden to go to bed that night, we decided to pray for Simeon. I explained that he didn’t have a place to sleep in the cold that night, and he only had one blanket even as she was tucked cozily in her bed with piles of mermaids and Moana’s.
She asks me one question.
“Why can’t he sleep with us tonight?”
No answer that comes to my mind seems to satisfy the simple logic of her love.
Why can’t he sleep with us tonight?
Photo Cred: Randy Jacob