Mike greeted me in the parking lot of the homeless shelter. He shook my hand and thanked me for bringing supplies. “If you don’t mind me asking, who was in our house here?”
“Who stayed here? Your father? Brother?”
“It’s okay,” he smiled, “I was just curious.”
“No, it’s fine. I don’t know anyone who stayed here.”
We started walking to my car. I’d been donating to other shelters for years but this was my first time at this house and I was thrown off by Mike’s questions. “Am I supposed to have a connection or contact or something? I didn’t know.”
He stopped. “You don’t know anyone who stayed here?”
“I really don’t.” My mom and 7-yr-old were in the car and I glanced toward the overloaded trunk and backseat. “I called ahead…I’m sorry.”
“We don’t,” Mike cleared his throat. “People usually give to the women and children’s houses. The men’s shelter doesn’t get many donations.”
“Well that’s…terrible. I mean it’s good that the other… We donate to shelters and safehouses, too. My mom made cute blankets for the kids…”
I was looking back and forth between Mike and the car, knowing my mother was going to wonder why I was standing in the freezing cold having a visibly uncomfortable conversation.
“May I?” He motioned toward the car.
When we reached the car, Mike knocked on my mother’s window. She rolled it down, staring over his shoulder at me. I shrugged.
He introduced himself to her. He told her that she had done a beautiful job raising her children. He thanked my son for coming and asked if he could shake his hand. My son beamed.
“Okay,” Mike straightened up, “what can I help bring in?”
“Oh, um, everything in the trunk,” I picked up some bags of men’s hats, gloves, and scarves while he grabbed a few bags full of clothing. We continued carrying toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap, leaving them in front of the building, while I wrapped my brain around this exchange.
He unlocked the door and dumped the contents of the bags on a long table then spread everything out. “This way, the guys can take what they need when they come in,” he explained.
He picked up some sweatshirts and fleeces, “These are really nice.” He looked at me. “They’re new?” It wasn’t a question, really. The tags were on them and there were a lot of the same size, same color.
His eyes filled up. He was quiet for a minute. He told me about how many of the men there were veterans. How many men had diabetes and couldn’t get help for it. Then he told me his story.
One about being here—not as staff director, but as a man who needed this place to survive.
“We get donations from men who used to stay here,” he continued, “or wives and kids of those men.” Then he asked me something that, at the time, I couldn’t answer. “Why are you doing this?”
I responded with a ridiculous, “I don’t know” followed up by “I just wanted to help”.
“Well, thank you. Thank you.”
We walked back out to the parking lot in silence.
As I got into the car, my son said, “He was nice. I’m glad we brought those things here.”
This is what Google has to say about compassion:
sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others
I disagree. I don’t believe pity has a part in compassion. Concern, yes. Sympathy, yes. Not pity.
Compassion is an emotion that gives one the ability to empathize with another’s situation without having actually been there. Wanting to help someone though you might not be able to relate to what they are going through, is compassion. The proverbial putting yourself in someone else’s shoes creates concern, empathy, sympathy—things that help you understand the pain of another person. Put those shoes on. Walk awhile.
“Bloggers from all over the world are coming together to talk about compassion, in one epic event on February 20, 2015.” Read about #1000 Speak for Compassion. The birth of the project was here at 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion by Yvonne Spence. I am honored to be among the thousands of voices blogging for compassion today.