Yesterday, while running the Gauntlet, I saw one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
“The Gauntlet”— so dubbed by my selfish pride— is a several mile stretch of my route to school, cut by 6 major intersections.
- Literally, running a gauntlet is the act of a person running between two lines of people, who are all attacking, injuring, or insulting them.
- Figuratively, it refers to enduring an onslaught of something
- For me, “the Gauntlet” contains no weapons; only guilt. It is the guilt toward me from the eyes of bedraggled, broken people standing on the sidewalks, holding ragged cardboard pleas for help. It is a gauntlet of homelessness.
The past two years have taken my perspective on homelessness through a very thorny journey, and that is quite a story of its own. To sum it up, throughout the past two years I’ve gone from being aware, to turning my eyes to the ground, to being obsessed and guilty, to caring too much, and finally to taking risks while gaining a new perspective.
The “obsessed and guilty” part basically gave birth to the idea of “the Gauntlet”. I had become acutely aware of my fellow humans living on street-corners, but I started dreading the guilt and obligation I felt when I saw them. When approaching the five or so intersections usually frequented by the homeless, I would crane my neck to see ahead, preparing myself to feel anxious if there was someone on the corner, or to feel relieved if the corner was empty. Driving those miles was running a gauntlet for me, and I would breathe an inward sigh of relief when I turned the last corner.
But, meanwhile, a new idea had begun to germinate. I began to ask the question, “What if we’re not the ones who give to them? What if they’re the ones that give to us?”
I think we too often assume that homeless individuals always need our help: our food, our money, our pity. I’m sure that some do. But, in that case, we would apparently be superior, helpful people who know exactly how to live life and can set these people on the same path as us. We forget that they’re humans, too; humans with hearts, stories, experiences, and a treasury of knowledge, lessons, and wisdom. Examine their lined, broken faces; how can you not trace those scars and calluses back to the hand of Experience? They have been through so much, and have so much to give from their treasury of life experiences. We only have to approach them with pure hearts that are ready to give, and open, humble hands that are ready to receive wisdom and friendship. This idea has been a huge breath of fresh air to me, and has been chiseling away my proud perspective.
In the midst of this heart-changing process, I was driving home from school yesterday, past the second intersection of “the gauntlet”, and glimpsed of one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
There, at the corner of the intersection, a man crouched beside his backpack, his hands gripping a cardboard sign. This, I was used to seeing. But what I had never seen before was what sat in front of him— a large, almost cone-shaped basket, full of pale purple wildflowers.
Driving past, I did a double take. Flowers? Why would a homeless man have a basket of flowers?
Suddenly, it pierced me straight to the heart. Of course. Some humble-hearted human would stop, blessing him with an interaction, words, or a gift, and he would return that blessing in the form of a pale purple wildflower. He was bestowing a beautiful gift on those who cared enough to treat him like a fellow human.
I couldn’t stop thinking about that man and his basket for the rest of the day. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Here is this struggling human, tough and rough-around-the-edges, yet vulnerable enough to pick a basketful of wildflowers and bless all of us supposedly “well-to-do” people with a gift of far more meaning than money could buy.
I mean… think about it. When was the last time you picked a wildflower and gave it to someone? By the time we pass the age of 8, the idea of giving a gift of wildflowers makes us red-faced, shuffling our feet and mumbling something about “childishness”. If you, as an adult, were to walk up to a stranger and give them a wildflower, they would more than likely smile and thank you, but it would a slightly unpleasant, disregarding, and superior smile, as if they were humoring a young child. They would call it foolish.
So, now, visualize this rough-edged, bedraggled man, with enough courage to return simple little blessings to those who bless him. And it suggests, once again, that maybe they have more to give us than we have to give them. Maybe they have more to teach us about Life than we could construct in our millions of houses, study in our millions of books, and discover through our millions of good works. And maybe this truth could take “us” and “them”, and make us one group of broken and beautiful fellow humans.
p.s. If any of you have thoughts/opinions on the subject of homelessness, I would really appreciate your comments. I’m planning on writing a longer post about homelessness, a subject that I have really struggled with, so I would love to hear your input and perspective.