You Can Still Choose Who To Be

You Can Still Choose Who To Be March 23, 2020

I want to show you a video.

This is Ms. Shirley Raines, who usually sets up a tent once a week on Skid Row and washes the homeless women’s hair with a portable beauty shop chair. She can’t do that during a pandemic. But when she heard that there were homeless people forced to shelter in place in their tents, she felt she couldn’t just abandoned them. Here’s what she did. She’s handing out bags of hand sanitizer, vitamin c supplements and fast food from her car window while wearing a mask and gloves.

In answer to the questions that keep coming up online about that video: no, the people in that video cannot just stand farther apart. There are sixty thousand homeless people in Los Angeles. They live crammed together in tent camps on Skid Row– some actual tents and some makeshift pup tents made out of tarp. They sleep, as Ms. Raines puts it, “on top of each other.” If they all stood a yard apart, the line would stretch for miles, and it wouldn’t make any difference anyway because they would go right back to crowding together in the tents. If one person in that video you just watched has COVID-19, then everyone else around them has already caught it. The whole state of California is sheltering in place. Nobody is supposed to go outside except for short walks six feet away from anyone else, but that doesn’t mean the homeless suddenly have a place to go. Some of them were put in housing and the rest are sheltering in place, together, in tents, with no running water or any way to clean their hands. If Ms. Raines, a woman working entirely with donated funds and no government funding, hadn’t brought donated hand sanitizer. vitamin C and a meal, they would have no protection whatsoever.

Ms. Raines records herself shopping and feeding the homeless from time to time, not to show off, but to show her donors that the money is being properly used. I saw her earlier this week posting photos of the vitamin c supplements she found to distribute. She is running around trying to find whatever sustenance for them she can: they usually get a whole hot meal she cooks herself, but none of the stores have enough groceries in stock to throw together a meal even if it were safe to serve them cafeteria-style during a pandemic. That’s why there are two McDonald’s hamburgers in each bag: because McDonald’s was the only place making enough food to buy and share. She’s putting her own life at risk, driving around town shopping in the middle of a pandemic, and going to the most vulnerable people to give them any help and comfort she can.

I don’t know what to say about the fact that I live in a country where the government orders everyone to shelter-in-place,  but then doesn’t provide shelters for their homeless population. People don’t just disappear when they don’t have anywhere to go. They die, and those who could have sheltered them are responsible. But I digress. Ms. Raines is determined to help people in any way she can.

Here’s another video I want you to watch. Molly McGovern is one of the founders of The Friendship Room in downtown Steubenville. She’s currently sheltering in place in compliance with Governor DeWine’s order, but at the Friendship Room instead of at home with her family, so she can keep helping. She’s asked donors to just drop hygiene items and food donations on the porch and not linger there; the volunteers will pick them up when the porch is empty. She leaves food and water in the cooler and the little free grocery for the poor people of downtown Steubenville to find, and she keeps their new outdoor sink filled with soap so they can wash up before they open the cooler. It’s very painful for the people at the Friendship Room that they can’t thank donors in person or have poor and homeless guests inside for fellowship and a shared meal anymore. But this is the best way to keep everyone alive for the moment.

I’ll let Molly speak for herself about why she’s staying where she is. Take a look! 

Now, there’s one more video I want you to see. I don’t know the story behind it, maybe there’s more to it than it seems, but it’s gone viral on Twitter this weekend. It appears to show a woman buying every last paper product at Dollar Tree for herself and loading it into her van while taunting. Here it is.

Don’t be that woman. Choose to be somebody else.

My readers of a Christian persuasion, listen to the Bible passages Molly read to us and take them to heart.

Because, I hate to be the one to tell you, we’re all going to die.

Hopefully not of COVID-19. I hope and pray to stay healthy until this is over, and pray you all do too. But one day, you are going to die. And you don’t know when. Maybe you’ll get to die happily in your sleep at the age of ninety-nine; maybe you’ll get run over in the parking lot at Dollar Tree tomorrow and never even get your groceries home. But everyone reading this is going to die at some point. And when you do, you will not be able to take with you anything you hoarded for yourself.

It’ll just be you and Christ, and Christ will be carrying everything, good and bad, you gave Him when He came to you in life. Everything. The dollar you threw in the tin cup; the smile you flashed Him and the time you patted His shoulder reassuringly when He was lonely and afraid; the relief He felt when you defended Him from bullies; the hunger and despair when you wouldn’t share your food; the virus He died of when you refused to shelter Him even though you governed a state with many vacant homes; the hand sanitizer and the cold hamburger you brought Him because it was all you had to give.

And for those of my readers who don’t believe in life after death– well, wouldn’t it still be better to face that final moment knowing that someone on earth will be happier, or at least less miserable, because of what you did while you had the time? None of us is going to be terribly comfortable for the foreseeable future no matter what we do. Dollar Tree toilet paper doesn’t feel nice. You might as well share.

Not everyone can find a way to help the homeless in person right now, and it wouldn’t be wise if we all went to where they are physically anyway. I understand that. Most of us are doing a good deed just by sheltering in place so we won’t spread the virus. But wherever you find an opportunity in the coming weeks, whatever brief interactions you have with people, whatever choices you make, PLEASE be a helper instead of a hoarder. Be heroic instead of selfish. We all have that capacity. I’m not good at it myself, not in the least. But I’m trying.

We can’t choose the times we live in or the suffering we’ll have to live through. But with whatever time we’re given, there’s always a choice. We can still choose who to be.

Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross

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