The homeless are literally everywhere. When I worked in the wealthy, and "Oh, so fashionable" Hamptons, they stood out like an infected blemish on the chin. In NYC, they were a normal part of the landscape. Here in Racine, I witness them in clusters at the Hospitality Center, Cup of Hope, HALO, or on the grid of downtown streets.
The homeless in Winter all look pretty much the same, fairly unkempt, dingy, skin weathered and worn, hands callused or chapped or red, and their feet in shoes a few sizes too large, with several layers of socks or none at all. They often wear more than one frayed coat or several hooded sweatshirts. Everything they own seems stained. Their hats are worn low, nearly covering their faces. They appear sad, anxious, distraught, and quite vacant.
On a recent walk downtown I was struck by the number of homeless individuals wandering about on Main Street. The sun was out. The temperature was blissfully above twenty. Folks were stretching their muscles. Most of the homeless folks were clutching steaming cups of coffee in large Styrofoam mugs. They never made eye contact with me. Even if I said “hello”, the best I could get was a polite nod. I understood. They stood out, because they carried their belongings with them.
After my lunch meeting, I walked back to my car. This time the sidewalks were full of well-groomed and nicely attired business folk. I would guess they were secretaries, accountants, lawyers, retail clerks, and an assortment of other professional people. I noted the absence of grime. I noticed that they were all snug and warm in their winter gear. They had good gloves, and scarves, and hats. No shock here. These people were of a whole different status and class. It showed.
But then it struck me right between the eyes. Their faces also looked quite grim. There were few if any smiles, and no greetings of any kind. This segment of the work force just hurried along. They were all business. They had places to go, people to see, and things to do. No time to waste. They also looked blank. Empty. Quite alone, and spiritually speaking, they too looked – well, homeless.
Our spiritual home is our soul. The soul is encased in the longings and yearnings and desires of the heart. The soul seeks contact with God, communion with a higher power, and intimacy with other human beings. The soul thrives in community. The soul also requires ample time in silence and solitude and stillness. The soul is what informs us of our wants, and wishes, and needs, and hopes, and even our dreams. The soul speaks God’s language. It is a language expressed in deep feelings and frequent sighs. The soul requires ample time to rest and play.
The physically homeless, those who lack a place to live, a dwelling to keep them warm, and to protect them from the elements, seek to find shelter. They need the comfort of a home, a place to be at home, to feel at home and to share with a family of some kind. The physically homeless simply want a chance to have a roof over their head, and walls which will protect them from Life’s fiercest winds. These good folks wander our streets seeking to find someplace to belong, to fit in, to stop the surging anxiety that courses through their veins.
I am sad to say it, and I may be reading too much into those professional faces and folks I saw hustling down the streets of Racine, Wisconsin, but they looked the same. The same alienated and forgotten look adorned their faces. The very same blank empty stares. I witnessed in them a lack of engagement, a detachment. I saw a longing in their stride. They were bent against the wind, and kept their eyes on their feet. Were they simply the homeless of the spiritual kind? Were they too seeking to find a place where they truly belonged, fit, and were accepted? A place where they might find the love we all seek in a home?
I am not sure. I wonder about it. I just sense that we have as many souls who are spiritually homeless, as we do those who are trying to find adequate shelter. Homelessness in America, on some level, is everybody’s issue. Homelessness which yields the absence of a soul may not be as immediately painful and agonizing, but over the long haul, it will be as destructive as daily beach erosion – until that which was once sturdy and solid, just slips away into the sea.
Homelessness is the basic human need for shelter. It can also be the basic human need to possess a soul. Without either, Life becomes a grind of epic proportions, a slogging we cannot survive, a devouring of the body and the spirit, and a breaking of the back or the will. Shelter and soul, without either or each, our lives are reduced to mere survival, and we become susceptible to a shattering hopelessness, which like a ferocious virus can sap our spirit.
Just surviving, mugs us of our integrity and dignity and maturity. We become cracked, soiled, stained, chipped, broken, dirt encrusted objects of little to no good use. We disappear. Fade into the oblivion of indifference or ignorance or both. We fail miserably to be the beautiful creatures we were indeed created to be. Life was never meant to be an endurance test nobody passes. It was meant to be a present, a gift, we received with a big bow upon it.
Homelessness spoils the party. It robs our days and lives of a reason to celebrate. It destroys our chance to receive all of the gifts. It fails to blow out all the candles. It drops the cake on the floor. We need to get rid of it, so we can once again rejoice.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.