Today I met a man named Vincent. I passed him without eye contact on my way into the Barnes & Noble on the plaza, but I knew I would talk to him on my way out. I think the majority of conversations between the homeless and the "homed" happen on the wrong end of spending. Everyone waits until they have made all of their purchases and can just get rid of their change. On the way in they "don't have anything to give," which really means they have much more than they're willing to give but they haven't broken it into smaller bills yet. I think also we avoid making eye contact on the way in for fear that it will birth expectations for the way out, or perhaps we feel awkward having two conversations with someone so we just wait. Or we simply ignore them all together. I have been guilty of committing each of these.
But today I met Vincent, and Vincent isn't actually homeless. I handed him my two dollars and offered him my two cents that he spend it on something good. He looked at me and said "now see, I'm a married man. I've got three kids and a place to live, but right now I find myself unemployed." He explained that he stood in that spot and collected money so he could feed his family.
He said "I've decided to ask for help instead of going and committing a crime so my family can eat." And I was overwhelmed by his humble honesty. Now, you cynical cynics out there may wag your finger at me and call me foolish for believing his story. But you did not shake this man's hand or see that his eyes held no trace of deceit.
Lately, I feel like everybody in my life has been telling everyone else not to have too much pride. I've always had a hard time understanding what it means to be prideful and how it's different than being proud. I think the words are actually synonymous, but in the right context they create a dichotomy that was always just beyond my comprehension. When we're little, everyone says "be proud of who you are." Our parents tell us how proud they are of us. We're encouraged to take pride in our school, our accomplishments, our heritage, and ourselves. And that all makes sense. As I got older I noticed that word, 'pride,' popping up among lists of sins and other flaws that people commonly carry with them, and I got confused.
I have this friend who has helped me understand what it means to have too much pride, and why it can be bad. He is one of my very best friends, but he rarely lets people help him, myself included. I will say to him, "Friend. You are going to be studying all night and I have studied that subject before. Let me help you" and he will not ask for my help. And I will say "Friend. You are cleaning your room while I sit here and watch. Let me help you." But still he doesn't ask. He will sling several heavy objects on his back, and only when I physically remove one will he allow me to carry something for him. This is not all the time, and it has even become a joke. I will ask him a question, and his polite declination is followed by "I have too much pride" with a wide smile.
I have this other friend who is sometimes bad at letting people in. She loves others with her huge and beautiful heart, but she can be blind to the abundant love people have for her. She is tough; she is one of the strongest people I know, and she does not like to be vulnerable. There has been devastation in her life and I hope she will forgive me for shedding light on that fact. She hates when people describe her past as hard, or say that so many things have "happened to her," but the truth is that she has faced tragedy in a more genuine form than most people in her life and certainly more than I have.
I've noticed that both of these individuals are slow to accept things given to them, even if it is simply a chicken sandwich or a cup of icecream. The reason I started sensing their pride was because I have this third friend and she is one of the ones who often says "you have too much pride." And she says it to them, and I believe her because she is one of the wisest people I know, and also because she says is it with the love that the rest of her words are also flavored with. She changed both of these people whom I love so much, and she changed me, and she is changing the world, and I miss her.
These three people helped me understand pride, and Vincent helped me understand humility.
Before I walked back to my car I put my hand on his shoulder and I said to him, "the Lord loves you very much and I want you to know that." He looked back at me and said "yes, He sure does. And you know that the Lord can do everything except one thing. Do you want to know what that one thing is?" And I said that I did.
"Fail. The Lord cannot fail." and I said "amen."