Homeless people are not an uncommon sight in Tacoma, and though I have tried to ignore my fair share of them in my rush to get here or there, they are never invisible to me. Like so many middle-class Americans, I am flooded with ambivalence whenever I see one of them at the side of the road. Part of me wants to help, and part of me wants them to put down their signs and go get jobs washing dishes or scrubbing floors — any form of honest labor. I usually resolve the problem by averting my eyes till the light changes and gunning past them as quickly as I can, although I have been known to hand off a five-dollar bill from time to time, despite cynical admonitions about how they’ll probably just go buy wine or cigarettes with my hard-earned cash. One year I drove around with a bag of canned goods in my back seat so I could hand out food, but usually I just hightail it and ask God to forgive me.

For some reason, probably because Mike was driving and we were held up at the light, I looked long at this woman, whom I decided was probably a Puyallup Indian — a small stout woman, her straight black hair pulled back and held with rubber bands. She wore a tattered parka and worn out Nikes. Suddenly, I realized I had made the fatal mistake of actually seeing her, and as we pulled away from the light, I asked Mike if he had been aware of her, though I was certain he had.

More than once while he was away at college, I had gasped in disbelief to learn that Mike had given aid to some stranger or another, and though I loved him for responding to this compunction to reach out to people in need, I was always terrified he would reach out to someone with evil intentions and I would never see or hear from him again. Of course, he said, he had noticed this woman, and he readily agreed when I suggested that we stop on our way back to the highway later and buy a bag of groceries to give to her. I’m not sure why I was inclined to reach out to this particular person more than some of the others I had seen holding similar signs. Was it something in her bearing, her posture, or was it, I wondered, because she was a woman and I was experiencing empathy? It occurred to me that some of the homeless men I had seen on the roadside frightened me, that I harbored a sort of chronic mistrust of men who couldn’t hold down a job.
Strange how we discover our prejudices in unexpected circumstances....

Excerpted from The Blessed: A Sinner Reflects on Living the Christian Life, (c) 2002, Sharon D. Moffitt, Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 49530. For more information, visit www.zondervan.com

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