Perhaps an industry of homelessness and an economy of “looks”…

After last week’s ironic mishap with the City of Chicago Traffic Authority I returned to the city humbled; not only spiritually but financially as well. Regardless, my empty stomach was starting to feel the pains of hunger at 12:30 in the afternoon just as Ho’Jo’s caught my peripheral. A quick diner-dash was in order as I settled for a $4.99 “double-duces” breakfast. Given my increased state of semiotic awareness it was the perfect opportunity to actually learn my waitress’s name and ask about her day.

Stepping out of the diner, I felt a sense of “new” about myself. The world was fully God’s, and it was mine to discover. From leaving Ho’Jo’s I walked toward the train and noticed a man sitting along the path between me and the station asking for change. Being “aware,” I tried to look him in the eye as I walked past while feeling the loose change and bills in  my pocket from the diner I’d just left. Getting a block or so past him, I felt my heart in turmoil, “What if that were God?” My mind sped forward to envision judgment day where I’d see tapes of my life replay showing me walk past the King with little more than a glance and a head nod. “What you did to the least of these…” And I certainly had change to give – it was in my hand… in my pocket…

I had to go back.

I stood on the corner debating between me and my twin within about what I would say to the man who I just walked past, I thought about what I’d give him, then about how stupid I must look talking to myself on the street corner. I turned and went back.

Being oddly nervous at first, I offered a simply apology for walking past him without more than a simple glance. I handed him a $5 and immediately told him that I was trying to pay attention to people with greater purpose. I apologized again only to be interrupted by his aversion to my apology.

“I knew you were different when you walked by the first time… you looked. Name’s Tony,” he said as he extended a cracked and weathered hand from beneath his blanket.

With a firm hand shake, Tony had a uniquely composed and articulate look about him. He pointed to the building across the street saying, “You see that condo there? You see anything spectacular about it? How about the one to the left?” Tony continued saying, “People look up to the left, to the right, like there’s something magical in the glass, they do everything they can not to look at me.”

“But you looked!”

Tony continued on, completely putting to rest any uncertainty about what I would say to him, it appeared he’d been looking for someone to listen to him for quite a while.

“You know brother, you can’t be sorry; I’m not sorry, this is just where I’m at. I know that not everybody is going to give me money, but that’s all I’ve got right now. Let me tell you though, the look…,” Tony paused, “the look means more than anything.”

There was a moment of silence between myself and Tony, then I remembered a quote I’d read from Ghandi just that morning:

“If you fail to see the image of God in the next person you meet, you might as well stop looking for God.”

I shared that quote with Tony, and shortly thereafter I was walking again to the train. But I kept thinking about that interaction and the profound truth behind Ghandi’s words.

For two years I’ve lived in this city and I’ve constantly battled myself when it comes to acknowledging and caring for the homeless. For two years I’ve walked past individuals shaking a cup; the sound of their shaking sinking like rocks into my stomach because much of the time I’ve genuinely had nothing to give them. Tony’s words, “the look means everything” kept ringing in my head.

“What if I have more to give the homeless than I think?”

Perhaps there will always be homeless around us (Matt. 26:11), an odd industry of what becomes of the complexity of urbanity.

Yet perhaps there is an economy where I have something even more valuable than silver and gold. An economy where the simple connection of my eyes to the eyes of another initiates an exchange greater than riches. An exchange of dignity. An exchange of human equality. An exchange that says:

“I’ve seen you.

I’ve seen your humanity.

I’ve seen the image that you bear and I will not ignore you.Welcome, welcome to the family.”

Posted in Theology.

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