This morning I woke up after a dream in which I had a strange conversation with a childhood friend. The details began to evaporate as soon as I got out of bed to check the time. I've begun sleeping without a clock in the room to prevent distractions and have restful sleep. I was shocked to find that time had elapsed into late morning as I had committed to attend a Saturday afternoon sparring session at my boxing gym. I had my morning tea and read the weekend scriptures to see what the Universe had to say. I arrived at the gym a little after I had planned and got my boxing fix for the weekend. Afterwards I decided to get something to eat as I was craving "Chick-fil-a" (My favorite fast food chain that claims to have invented the chicken sandwich). As I pulled into the parking lot I noticed how packed the line was despite being mid afternoon. "These franchises must be a gold mine", I thought to myself as I walked in. I washed my hands, ordered my food, and said my prayers before devouring my meal.
Austin is home to a large homeless population. Seeing people with signs asking for food or money is common. A middle aged couple sitting at a table next to me was loudly discussing a man holding a sign begging for food outside. The woman was large and plump with a shrieking whiny voice. She shrilled on about how the beggar made her sick and how she noticed that he got out of a "new van" with his family to beg for food. The beggar appeared to be middle eastern with two small children and a wife that may have been pregnant (It sort of reminded me of Joseph and Mary searching for an inn). While their van did have new license tags, it was a used model from a decade past.
I tried to eat in peace but was unable to tune out the cacophony beside me. I looked on and saw the man begging with a sign asking for help to feed his family in between traffic from the restaurant and a Starbucks coffee shop. Eventually the manager from the Starbucks asked the begging family to leave their corner and as they walked back to their van, I noticed a man in a pick-up truck speaking to them. The shrill-voiced woman spewed hateful remarks onto her effete and equally plump husband about how shameless beggars make her sick, when suddenly the beggar family walked into the restaurant. They were accompanied by the man in the pick-up truck who bought the family lunch and an ice-cream cone for himself.
I was happy to witness such an act of compassion in the midst of the Christmas season where such acts of humility and love are on display in movies, television, and songs, yet rarely seen in real life. The spirit of the season is more pronounced in the winter where the days are short, the weather is cold, and people are absorbed in their own business. I wanted to tell the shrill woman to "shut up", but opted to casually observe instead. As I went to get a refill of water I noticed how people stare at my unusual beard and long hair which always makes me happy, especially with children (as they always seem to get the joke). On my way back from the counter I caught the attention of the little girl whose father was begging fifteen minutes before and now eating his meal. She must have been 5yrs old (a year younger than my niece). She gave me such a look of curiosity that when I smiled and winked at her, she returned a blushing smile (as children often do) with french fries in her hand.
I always wonder what children must think when they see such a strange character as myself. Adults usually refrain from eye contact, some women stare, others smile, but most children are genuinely happy. I hope that little girl and her baby brother have a nice Christmas, but I know that it won't be the feel good kind they sell to us at the store or on television.
The Spirit of Christmas or Christ for that matter is in our hearts. It lives when we see ourselves in others and empathize with compassion. The Kingdom is both simultaneously here and in another dimension. It exists when someone sees God begging to feed his family and stops to do something about it. It ceases to exist when we complain, pass judgment, or ignore our fellow man. As I drove home, the words to "O Holy Night" resounded in my mind. I felt emotions of sadness and joy well up inside for which I cannot describe...
Later on in the evening some friends had invited me out to a "tacky sweater" pub crawl on 6th street. I showed up (dressed normal) a little early and decided to people watch as I walked along the street. I walked until I found a street corner on Trinity and 6th that offered the best views. A few homeless people approached me and asked for spare change. I smiled and wished them well. Sadly, I witnessed a former boxer (an older Native American gentleman) who I used to see at the gym walking from the homeless shelter up the road. I called to him as he walked by me and shook his hand. He told me that he had fallen upon hard times and medical bills had taken their toll on him. He didn't want me to know that he was staying at the shelter so I let him be. He was quite upset as someone had stolen some of his belongings. This was once a happy older man. Strangely, another fellow boxer pulled up beside me on the road in a patrol car, rolled his window down and said, "Hi". He is a police officer; we bumped fists and off he went to "fight crime".
I watched as droves of young people with typical tacky sweaters all dressed to out-flash their neighbor walked past or ignored the homeless begging or asking to be acknowledged. I felt bad that there was such a disparity of wealth and dignity that there were poor, cold, and homeless right beside the children of the wealthy wearing purposely shabby clothing as a joke.
Regardless if a person appears poor or not, begging for food has got to be difficult. It takes a lot of humility to ask for such help especially in front of one's wife or children. Only God knows why we're here, but it can't be so that we can step over the bodies of the less fortunate in order to secure a slightly better footing for ourselves. History has recorded instances of demonic possession, which could have been misdiagnosed mental disorders; however, the opposite must certainly be possible where the Holy Spirit is capable of taking possesion of a body in order to do good. I believe that all humans share a soul, a part of the Divine. That means accepting the idea that regardless of gender, race, religion, orientation, and wealth... All humans could be facets of the same Divine being. It's a complicated thought or feeling. The minute I try to put it into words, it begins to fade like waking from a dream.
"Do not complain, brothers, about one another, that you may not be judged. Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates."
― James 5:9