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It wasn't a feeling I wanted to carry with me, because it changed the thread of who I was. I tried my best to push it down and most of the time I could. But still, two years after the encounter, whenever a homeless person would ask me for money, I couldn't simply walk by without giving it any thought, or just say, "No." Instead, the anger and judgement were suddenly seething through my body--but then I sent the hot dog man a letter and everything changed.
Two years ago, when I was waiting in front of the library for my husband to pick me up, two men were standing nearby. One was a homeless man, the other an elderly veteran who was waiting for his wife to come out of the library. When the homeless man asked the elderly man for some money, he shook his head no, so that's when the guy started pitching his "tale" of despair.
"Well, I wouldn't ask," the homeless man said, "except my mother is ill with cancer, and my house burned down a month ago--I lost everything, and my sister died last week so I need money for the funeral, and the cat fell off the roof..." Soon he realized the man still wasn't going to give him any money, so he tried a new approach. "I see from your patch that you're a veteran. I am too. I was injured in the war and have had nothing but troubles since. I just need a little help. You know how it is for veterans."
I could see how pressured and uncomfortable the elderly man was feeling, and I couldn't take it anymore. Before I even thought about the possible consequences, I walked over to the homeless guy and loudly announced, "Leave that man alone. You and I know your stories are a con and you have no right to keep hammering away at that man. He told you no, so leave him alone."
The homeless man was furious and started yelling at me. I told the elderly man to go into the library, and thank heavens my husband pulled up a couple of minutes later. Ever since then, whenever I would see a homeless person I judged them and felt angry inside. This feeling of judgement was strange for me, because when I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, I created a nonprofit where for eight years I prepared and served a meal every Friday to 150 homeless people. There wasn't ever any judging on my part about whether someone was homeless, or how they got in that situation. My "assignment" was to serve people who showed up. It brought great joy to me.
I desperately wanted to change the way I was feeling about homeless people, and that's when I read about the hot dog man in the newspaper. Every Sunday, Bob, lovingly called the hot dog man, serves hot dogs with sauerkraut and a bottle of cold water, from the back of his hatchback to 40 some people. He's not affiliated with any organization, he just decided to start doing it years ago, and now his customers are always lined up waiting for him. Bob mentioned in his newspaper interview that three or four Sundays during the year, he and his wife are out of town, but other than that, he serves every Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
As soon as I finished reading the article I knew this was the answer to my problem. If I filled in for Bob when he was out of town, not only would I be doing a good deed, I knew in my heart, I would find my way back to being nonjudgmental. And that's exactly what happened. Bob loved the idea of my substituting, and when I showed up Sunday to learn the ropes, each time I handed someone a hot dog I received a gift of grace.
Thanks for reading with me. It's so good to read with friends.
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