This week I held hands and prayed with a homeless man. Yep. And no, I did not expect to.
I am guilty of having become desensitized to the homeless people I pass by as I go about my daily routine. I notice the woman on the curb on my way to work, or rather I notice only when she is sitting slightly further away or is not there at all. I don’t notice the man in the metro underpass who sells candy every weekend, and I certainly hardly ever notice countless others who are living in the shadows of our nation’s capital. Donating money to organizations that feed the homeless somehow made it OK for me to ignore them in real life.
This week, Midnight Mitzvahs jolted me from my desensitized stupor. This was my first time participating in Midnight Mitzvahs. I didn’t know what to expect, I was a little hesitant to approach homeless people, and generally wasn’t sure how a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some tangerines could really make a difference to someone on a rainy winter night. In the interest of full disclosure, I was also hesitant to approach homeless people in the street. Over the next hour, I realized just how wrong I had been. More than a sandwich or a travel sized bottle of shampoo, what the homeless miss and want is a kind gesture, a gentle word, and, occasionally, a prayer.
One man in particular touched my heart. He was alone, standing outside of the 7-11, no hat, no scarf, but a smile on his face. We introduced ourselves (you never come up to someone by yourself) and offered him the requisite brown paper bag. The man had a speech impediment and was difficult to understand at times. He graciously accepted the food, but declined shampoo and body lotion (!), instead asking for some shaving cream and asked for some shaving cream and shaving razors, which we did not have. He next asked for something that sounded like “water.” We didn’t have any with us, but I offered to grab some from the 7-11. He said “no no water, prayer.” I was flabbergasted. So we prayed. First a Jewish blessing. Then we all held hands and he blessed us. And smiled. And thanked us for praying with him.
I know I will return next month. I encourage you to give it a try as well. And if you do, please consider donating some shaving supplies :).