The photograph for today was taken through a window looking into Starbuck’s. It’s Friday night and the coffee shop is full. There is a couple studying, a table bustling with conversation, a few people scattered about on their laptops, another looking off in the distance with his ear buds in his ears. I see all these people and think “God.”
When I am my best self I see God everywhere, in the eyes of every creature. When I moved to Gainesville the first sight I noticed was all the Spanish moss everywhere. I had fallen in love with Spanish moss in Savannah and the climate here is very similar. I could see God in the brilliance of the palm trees in all their diversity. I could feel the presence of divinity walking in the memorial garden at the church. Quickly I learned Gainesville has a huge homeless population. Go downtown to the plaza after 11pm and you will see countless people sleeping around the edges of the plaza. It is illegal to sleep on the actual lawn and thanks to the Occupy movement the homeless in the area have been given the information needed around perimeter to keep them from arrests in the night. Walking through the plaza you are literally stepping over people. Just blocks away both the Salvation Army shelter and the shelter at St. Francis’ House is full. This is the overflow.
I grew up exposed to more homelessness than a lot of folks growing up in Fayetteville, AR have experienced. Homelessness in Fayetteville isn’t as overt as it is in Gainesville. My mom managed a convenient store in the late 80’s in south Fayetteville. Homeless people, mostly men, and bikers were often at the store. When mom took over she had been warned that this was a problem. My mom never saw these people as a problem.
These men were a pivotal part of my childhood, of the formation of my values and the way I would look at others. It was here I started learning that we are all equal, we all have inherent worth and dignity, we are all a spark of God in human form. In this store there was a deli and mom would often give a sandwich to someone who took on a small job such as hosing down the parking lot. The “dangerous” bikers became protective of my mom and me. A few of them would continue to keep an eye on me later in life when I flirted with the wrong kinds of crowds for a while – they would keep me safe when I was being too reckless to do so for myself.
In the summers I remember sitting at the booths playing cards and hangman with the homeless guys. I remember a man we called “dirty john” who came to believe my mom was his daughter and I was his granddaughter. He smelled so bad we did occasionally hide from him when he came in so we could spare his feelings and the awkward moment of not wanting to embrace him. Maybe if we had been our best selves we would have hugged him every time he wanted a hug, which had become every time he saw us. We learned years later his name was Fred and he had a family but would not go home. The details are a blur, but clearly something had snapped for this man. His adult son told my mom that Fred had just left home one day and would not return. They found him living under the bridge and tried to get him to come home, but he would not. They saw him weekly for a meal. It was as often as Fred, “dirty john” would go to their house.
These men had nothing yet many of them insisted on paying for things. I remember filthy money, mostly coins, being offered to the cashier’s for a cup of coffee. My mom tried telling them they didn’t have to pay for coffee, they could have a few free cups a week. They wouldn’t accept. They would either do an odd job or bring their found money. Mom would have the cashier’s put it in a bucket rather than ring it up. It was so dirty it had to be washed.
So I am looking through the window at Starbucks and I doubt a single one of these people had to collect their coffee money from the gutter. I think about my privilege as I stand there with my smart phone then get into my car and drive to my safe home where temperatures are regulated at my will. I send up a prayer of thanks because I never have to worry about my utilities being turned off or where I will sleep the next week. I also pray that we can all start to recognize God in one another – and in ourselves.
I am reminded of a photo project Andrew Kilgore does back in Fayetteville, AR. He photographs people at Community Meals. These people are extremely poor, some of them homeless and some living in shelters, public housing, or somehow making it. Andrew sees God in their faces and is talented and skilled enough with photography to be able to capture a photo that holds that spark of divinity and allows the rest of us to see it.
Spirit of Life, God of Many Names, Holy Mystery, I pray for all of humankind to have our sight blessed. Let us begin to see you in the faces of one another and in our own face in the mirror. Let us begin to see the connection of creation and know the sacred in the forests and in the coffee shops. I believe as we begin to truly see, we will change our behaviors. If we see the Holy in all things, we will surely rise to protect one another, the creatures, and the Earth itself. Let us truly see one another. Amen, Shalom, and Blessed Be.