Monday, November 01, 2010

Snubbed by the Homeless

This past Sunday at worship I bumped into a guy I've met a number of times. I said "Hi." He said, "Do I know you?"

Apparently he didn't know me, but I knew him. I recognized him even though he was wearing a bloody hockey mask and carrying a bloody machete. (I'm assuming it was a Halloween costume, but in all honesty I don't know him very well.) I, on the other hand, was dressed in almost exactly the same way that I am every time I see this guy. It's worth noting that he recognized at least a couple of women, but me--nope. Nothing.

I'll be honest with you, I felt a little snubbed. I see this guy three out of every four Wednesday mornings. I make him breakfast, I fold his blanket and collect his dirty linens to be laundered. I let him sleep as much as a half hour longer than everybody else. He's a guest at an overnight shelter; apparently I'm his servant.

His name's Dave too, I found out. The women called him that. It's been a frustration of mine at the shelter, actually, that nobody ever uses anyone else's name; I never learn what to call people. I suppose I could ask, and I'm pretty sure I have asked once or twice, but I can't retain people's names to save my life, apparently.

I like to think that I'm not a particularly vain person, but when I get snubbed by a homeless guy, my vanity gets poked at. I like to be recognized, thanked, celebrated even. Noblesse oblige is traditionally thought to be the responsibility of the well off, but generally it's also their privilege, and when that privilege is withheld, it stings a bit. Especially when on most days the well off (e.g., me) don't feel particularly well off.

Then again, obligation never really motivates us. More compelling motivators are personal: self-preservation, personal gain, relationships, that sort of thing. And what really stings, I guess, is not that this poor homeless guy isn't adequately deferential to the middle-class guy schlepping eggs for him; it's that this guy I've gotten friendly with at weekly gatherings is friendly but not, apparently, a friend.

That's my fault as much as anyone's. I haven't remembered his name, I haven't gotten to know him. Instead of finding out about his life, I found myself surprised to run into him in the church building where both of us worship.

Jesus once told his followers, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends" (John 15:15). That's what I want for me and Dave, I guess: in this scenario he's Jesus and I'm one of the guys who are about to abandon, betray or deny him. But Jesus called them friends nevertheless. I'm hopeful that, sooner or later, Dave will call me friend as well.

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