I drove by a shopping cart as I turned onto my street, full of someone’s worldly goods, brown cardboard sign poking out from the top. It was haloed in light from the street-light above. I didn’t see anyone nearby.
Last night I passed the same shopping cart piled high as I got off the highway. It was just a few hundred yards away from where it sat tonight.
Someone “lives” in this area, parking all their belongings as they try to catch a few moments of rest. Likely struggling to truly sleep, racked with anxiety their cart will have been taken away come morning. I wonder, as the owner flew their sign earlier today, did they make enough money to find a cheap place to stay? Some shitty motel with a low rate, anywhere slightly cleaner and more comfortable than the hard concrete.
I simply cannot fathom keeping everything I own in a shopping cart. Honestly, I can’t fathom owning so little it all fits into a shopping cart.
I can’t imagine what it is like to have to fly a sign all day, standing at the corner of the exit off I-25, not only wanting to make some money, but also longing for someone to look my way and acknowledge my presence, my humanity. Standing there as people are waiting at the red light. Awkwardly fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, praying the light turns green so they don’t have to sit here and pretend I’m not there because they don’t have any cash, or they don’t want to give it, or they think I’m a lazy bum, or they just feel guilty that they have while I have not.
I can’t imagine what that’s like.
Yesterday I was driving back from my shift at Network, a coffee shop centered around providing a safe, humanizing space for Denver’s homeless. A place to just be present, enjoy friendships, drink too much coffee. I’d just spent hours practicing presence with the homeless, and as I drove down Grant and turned a corner, I realized there was a homeless man standing on the corner with his sign who I had barely seen until I’d already passed by.
I spend my weeks engaging with the poor and building friendships with the homeless and I still barely saw him.
We’re so conditioned in our society to ignore what makes us uncomfortable, to pretend that which is not right simply does not exist (for to acknowledge it would mean having to address it). It’s far easier to dehumanize the “other,” because if I have compassion and begin to actually see another human being, I can no longer excuse their suffering.
There is so much injustice in this broken, hurting world. When these injustices are happening to a far-off group of “others” who I have no personal connection with, I can speak in lofty terms, pass judgments, and create grandiose hypothetical solutions for the human beings I’ve never met. But when someone goes from a nameless, faceless being to a person I know by name, the hypothetical solutions and lofty conversations are now about my friend.
We must begin to see the Imago Dei in each and every human being we encounter - whether we love them or not. There are people in this world who I would rather hate. I want them to just be evil, because that would be simpler. Bad people are bad, therefore I do not have to love them. This releases me from humanizing my enemy. But the truth of God is that every single human being in this world is a Child of God, made in God’s Good Image. Even if they are deeply broken and twisted at this time, the core of humanity is still a Good Creation. And when we acknowledge this, that we are all Beloved Children, then I can no longer demonize the other or the perceived enemy. I can no longer hold those I deem bad at arm’s length, because we have the same core identity.
When I see the shopping cart glowing in the late-night street lights, and I pause to think about the Child of God who pushes it around, holding a cardboard sign reading, “Anything Helps,” I must begin to also see myself.
I too am a beggar. While my physical needs are met and I have been afforded much in my life, my beggar is within. What would my sign say if I stood there on the street corner? My shopping cart full of my insecurities and bad relationships, piled high with poor decisions and all the ways I try to earn love, affection, and worth, all covered up in a blanket of doing good things for the wrong reasons because I’m afraid I won’t be loved if I don’t. My sign begging for love, pleading to be wanted, asking for security and success. “Help, I’m addicted to affirmation. Won’t believe I’m enough on my own. Can’t seem to get clean.”
We are all human beings created in the Image of God. We’re all beggars in some right, suffering from loneliness and racked with addictions trying to fill the void. The question is if we will choose the humility to see it.
That shopping cart could so easily be mine, on the corner of lonely and hopeless under a street light in the foggy night.