This past week I noted with interest the photos of the young police officer who bought a homeless man boots to keep his feet warm. The story went viral.
It wasn't long, of course, before the media 'busted' the story. It turned out the homeless man wasn't homeless, but actually had a place to stay, was an alcoholic and had 'misplaced' the shoes. Media sources I listened to were outraged that this young officer had provided for someone undeserving.
Of course, since the story initially went viral, there were questions asked amongst the populace about what to do to prevent such things happening and about personal opinions. Well you know what they say about opinions: everyone has one.
I heartily applaud the young officer for showing true compassion. I hope, I pray, that his heart isn't hardened nor changed by the media exposure of the recipient. The truth is, this officer's heart is remarkable. He saw a need he could supply, he did it, and that this act was recorded was just one of those things that happens. He wasn't seeking publicity. He sought to relieve what he perceived was suffering on the man's part. It was cold, the man was barefoot, the officer took money from his pocket and provided boots and socks. Many of us, myself included, might feel compassion, we might ache for the need we see, but few of us will put our compassion into action. We'll walk by and we might say a prayer over the man's needs, but we likely won't do a thing about it.
Essentially this is the story of the Good Samaritan all over again. Others passed by and did nothing, but one man saw a need and provided for it. Kindness was given for the sake of kindness, not for recognition nor any other benefit.
I grew up with alcoholics in my family and I've seen first hand the devastation they wreak upon a family, upon people, who get drawn into co-dependent relationships with them. There's a point where help isn't help anymore. There's a point where the pain the co-dependent has been through and the hurt dealt with simply has to end and the only way to end it is to walk away. The relationship dynamics are as devastating to the abuser as the substance they are abusing. I have hardened my heart in this area and if you've never lived with the results of alcoholism or drug addiction, you won't understand, can't understand. If you have, then you might have compassion for me and anyone else who has dealt with it. I fight this hardness every single day.
That it was the man's brother who 'exposed' him says something to me about the hurt and anger his family feels about his circumstances. I understand his outrage, his feeling that his brother was undeserving of the kindness after all the help I'm sure they had tried to be to him, that a family member was in an embarrassing situation that might have been a private and was now public. Yes, I think I understand this brother's heartache and hurt from the perspective of my own past.
The man was supposed to be homeless. Even if he's an alcoholic, his life has spun out of control. He's likely burned many and many a bridge behind him with people who wanted to help. Abusers have regrets, too, and pain. He's not drinking solely because he likes it. He's masking some deep dark pain of his own. Here he was on a street in the cold, dark freezing night. Who is to say that the impact of this kindness from a stranger might not have been more monumental than first appearances lead us to believe? We cannot know what a single act of pure kindness can do in a person's life even if it does not generate an immediate change.
We tend, as people, as Christians, to look at others and determine what they 'deserve'. I am not pointing a finger at any one. I'm just as guilty on this score. "I" determine who merits an act of kindness? I am reminded of where I was in my life when God called me. I didn't deserve a thing. I didn't earn it, I didn't have anything in my life to show that I merited His favor, but He called out to me anyway. Who am "I" to judge another? Who am "I" to be so lacking in mercy, grace and kindness when so much was given to me?
And here's one last twist for us all. I was impacted by this act of kindness and the aftermath of revelations that came along. Others were impacted. WE have been changed whether or not the man who was helped has changed. WE have been changed, at least for a moment. Every act, every word, impacts far more than we realize. It's a sobering reminder that we should all speak and show kindness at all times.