I have a big construction project at the moment that is making a lot of money. The job is going well and we stand to get even more work. Thursday of last week, I bought lunch for all the guys working on the project. They wanted Pat’s Chili Dogs and Pepsi. I left the house at 10 AM and Safeway was my first stop, to pick up Pepsi and ice. As I returned to my car with all the soda, a 30ish Hispanic woman approached me in the parking lot. Before she spoke, I knew what was coming.
Pan handlers often approach me in that parking lot. A couple of years ago, LAG gave a woman a couple of dollars in that parking lot and as we later drove off with our groceries, the woman and a scrappy guy were walking off into the desert with a case of beer.
So as she approached, I was already feeling uncomfortable. I think I was feeling shame and guilt. On some unquestioned, unanalyzed gut level I believe that asking for help is shameful, especially if the need for help is rooted in laziness and irresponsibility. I come from Protestant people of industry and responsibility.
But I suppressed my discomfort, faced her directly and met her gaze. I was expecting, “Can you spare some change …” but instead she asked, “Can you help me get something to eat?”
I answered, “Sure. I’ll help you get something to eat. I tell you what; meet me at Los Betos across the parking lot. I’m going to load my groceries and drive over there and I’ll buy you a burrito.”
As I drove over to Los Betos, I was thinking about the season, the Christmas story, no room at the inn, and I thought, “I bet her name is Mary.” I bought her a California burrito and while we waited for her order, I asked her what her name was.
“Marie” she said. I almost cried.
I asked her if she had a home. She was homeless.
I asked her if she has some support, if she had been to a shelter, if she had a place to sleep and some people to help her get a home and a job. She said that she was sleeping at a friend’s house, but the friend had to go to work, so she was on the street until her friend came home. The friend was supposed to take her to a shelter that evening after work.
I had to get 20 Pat’s Chili Dogs and drive to the south east side of town. I didn’t have time to get involved and solve Marie’s problems, but it seemed to me that God was speaking to me. As I drove away, headed to Pat’s, I thought about that scene, “Thank you Lord for bringing me where I did not want to go.”
Later in the day, after the chili dog party, I was driving home listening to NPR – Talk of the Nation. They were discussing God, religion and wealth; an unbelievably synchronistic conversation. Listen to it here.
There is another scene in Last Temptation where Jesus goes out into the desert, draws a circle in the dirt and says to God, “I’m not going to leave this circle. I’m not going to leave here until you speak to me. No signs. No pain. Just speak to me in human words. Whatever path you want, I’ll take. Love, or the axe, or anything else. And if you want me to stay here and die, I’ll do that too. But you have to tell me.” Jesus then has several hallucinations/visitations, but (appropriately) God never speaks to him in human words and tells him what to do.
And so it is in life I think: Marie asks me for help; An NPR show helps me clarify and focus my thoughts. Every event in life is an opportunity to correct our heading. The hard part is paying attention. I think maybe I intentionally avoid paying attention. I’m too attached to my comfort and security. I am the rich young man who goes away sad, for I have many possessions.