It was a numbingly cold night in January 2015. Despite having wrapped my body in multiple layers of clothing, I shivered incessantly as every hair on my arms and legs stood at attention. My husband and I were walking through downtown Nashville in search of a cab after having been to the Jack White concert. As we moved through the city, we passed one of its most spectacular architectures - The Omni Hotel. I turned my gaze toward the window of the hotel's restaurant. The atmosphere inside appeared to be oozing with life, so abundant with drink orders, designer handbags, false eyelashes, selfie-taking and a symphony of laughter. I smiled to myself, happy to see others also enjoying their night. I was still existing in a post-concert "high", replaying all of my favorite moments in my mind and eager to showcase the highlights on Instagram.
It couldn't have been more than 20 degrees outside, and there were no available cabs or Uber drivers to be claimed. I observed the faces of every person surrounding us, and each seemed to be approaching a mild state of panic. I, however, still revolving about in a state of bliss, was far too content to be terribly fazed by the discomfort of the cold. Suddenly, upon encountering a drunken middle-aged lady throwing a temper tantrum, I was abruptly jerked down from my fluffy cloud of post-concert bliss. I observed her behavior as she vomited a string of obscenities and proceeded to nearly tackle a woman half of her size, solely for the purpose of hijacking the only available cab in sight. She was in a chokehold of selfishness and, therefore, bled ugliness.
As we made our way up the hill, my husband growing more concerned with every step and further absence of no approaching cab, my eyes met a homeless man seated on a bench. His body was curling into itself. His hands were tucked securely inside the pockets of his hoodie, which was also drawn tightly around his face. I was unable to see a mere inch of flesh. If I were to pass him on the street today, I would have no idea who he was. I will never know what this man looks like, but I will never forget him. I will never forget the site of his body trembling, or of the desperation which was evident from the way he hid every inch of himself under the little clothing he had.
He wore no coat, and his shoes appeared to have travelled countless unfortunate miles. My heart ached at the sight of him. My spirit sensed his shame, and it permeated me. My breath met the cold air with barely the force of a whisper as I said to my husband, "Baby, look. That's so sad. What can we do?" My husband, despite his compassionate nature, ushered me along up the hill, eager to see that we made it home safely. I crawled into bed that night feeling haunted and, indeed, I was.
The man on the bench was a miracle the day he was born, just as I was and just as you were. His first cry upon departing from his mother's womb and entering this world was just as miraculous as any other cry. Yet, for reasons I will never know, he found himself as a grown man without a home. That saddens me. My mind returned to the drunk lady I had seen just moments prior to encountering the homeless man. I thought about how full of rage she was over not being able to catch a cab within a time frame that met her agenda and would, therefore, enable her to meet her friends at another bar across town for the purpose of further indulging herself. Just feet from her was a man who couldn't even get warm. He didn't even have a pillow to lay his head. I thought about the girls inside of the restaurant taking selfies, caught in a delusion of superficial relevance. I saw aspects of myself in those girls, and it stung. What has become of our priorities as a society? Lying in my warm bed under a mountain of blankets while securely sandwiched in between my husband and dog, I felt shame for having done nothing.
In life, we are constantly presented with a stream of choices. Those choices then lead to other choices and, eventually, one may find himself either on top of the world, or perhaps being swallowed by a giant black hole. I don't think it's a matter of luck. I don't think it's punishment, either. I just think it's beliefs, and the choices made as a result of those beliefs. When I reflect on my life thus far, I consider poor choices which were made based upon lies I believed about myself. I'm certain others can relate.
How a person came to be homeless is no concern of mine. I have no desire to judge or decide whether or not they "made their own bed to lie in". I have compassion for them because I understand what it is like to not realize the power within. Many people are unaware of the power they possess to create their own life. We should have compassion over every person's suffering - no matter what.
I consider prisoners on death row. Some readers may be appalled but, guilty or not, I have compassion for them, too. For a moment, I allow my mind's eye to see past the layers of ugliness they are buried under. Underneath the filth of their decisions is the purity of their soul. Many individuals on death row are there because such a way of life is all they have been shown. Many are repeating the patterns of the generations which preceded them. Many were not parented at all, and many had parents who were in and out of the prison system as well. I realize such is not the case in every instance. There exist individuals who had stable upbringings, yet went on to commit heinous crimes. However, something along the way led them to make such choices.
Each of us are either currently battling something, or existing with the echoes of yesterday's bloodshed. Each of us have battled aspects of ourselves which have provoked us to cover our faces in shame. Each of us are products of our formative years and upbringing. Having compassion for the offender is not equivalent to excusing their bad behavior. It doesn't mean enabling it, either. It doesn't mean I think they shouldn't be punished. I'm merely attempting to convey my point that we shouldn't hate the person. We shouldn't hate the soul or the life form itself. In fact, don't spend a solitary moment hating any of it at all - not the homelessness, the crime, the cruelty, the perceived laziness, the misfortune or the dysfunction. Don't even hate the injustice. Forget the hate. Hate should be paid no regard. Just fill it all up until it's overflowing with love. If you're not loving, you're not being who you really are.
Many individuals channel tremendous passion toward standing up for their beliefs. They engage in "posting wars" on message boards and social media sites, all in the name of "I'm right and you're a perpetual idiot!" They spew venom at "sin", yet oftentimes do little to be an example of what they claim to stand for. They look for reasons to condemn and highlight separation, as opposed to ways to better love and create connection. It's far too often that the same people with a scowl and a finger pointing in the face claim to be doing such in the name of their beliefs.
Why is there so much focus on the notion of "my side vs. your side", of "right vs. wrong", but little on the immense healing power of love? What is everybody so afraid of? The person you passionately disagree with has the same right to their beliefs as you do. We should have each others' backs! We have a responsibility to our fellow earthlings. If you're so passionate, stick your nose outside of your comfort zone and volunteer your time somewhere. Participate in a mission trip to a third world country. Choose patience over intolerance when you're rushing through traffic. Look for Jesus in the face of the most unsuspecting, and you are sure to find him. Gift a genuine smile to a stranger. Just give some love away.
Instead of judging that family member you perceive as never being able to "get it together", consider ways you can honor them. Instead of discussing all that is wrong, shine some light on what is going right. Instead of gossiping with your girlfriends, talk about your joys, talk about what is working and talk about who is thriving. Look for reasons to celebrate. I say all of this not to claim that I am perfect at any of it, for I'm certainly not. I fail every day. I'm not a shining example of any of those things, but I sincerely strive to continue growing in my pursuit of and focus on each of them. I don't want to talk about the "bad" anymore. Let's talk about all we can do that is good. Be "pro" something, as opposed to "anti" everything. If you want this world to be a better place, stop declaring war against the things you hate! Just fill it all up until it's overflowing with love.