She’s not a regular.
I’d been meeting there weekly for almost two months, and I’d never seen her before. It must have been her first time. I was sure I knew all of the unsheltered people.
She asked if I had $2. I didn’t. I still don’t. I choose not to carry cash.
I walked off. Honestly, I always walk off, unless I feel it…the nudging, the prodding, the incessant tapping.
There it was.
I thought it was hypocrisy because I was watching her over the counter through the stacks of cups and straws. I’d left my computer and my bookbag. They would have been very easy to swipe. For shame! That must be the reason for the tapping, I thought.
The barista smiled patiently when I looked up. I’d zoned out. Mentally, I was replaying the conversation, trying to make myself feel better for dismissing her request so easily. There were empty cups on her table. See? She’d already drank her coffee. There was an empty plastic wrapper on the table, too. See? Someone else had already fed her. I was good. I didn’t owe her anything. Besides, I really didn’t have any money.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
I returned to the computer, hoping my literal taps would drown out the ones tugging at my heart. She tried to make small talk. I pretended to be too busy for conversation.
I wouldn’t even look up.
But, I was writing a blog founded on the premise of compassion! I kept deleting letters, words, phrases, sentences. She kept talking. I forced myself to stop, to look up, to see her. Her smile was brighter than mine. I felt guilty. Now I wanted to buy her something to drink and something to eat. But, I couldn’t face her. I was afraid she’d recognize my guilt.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Those taps weren’t about her; they were about me. They were alerting me to the fact that my soul needed examining.
How dare I claim to be a community pastor and invisibilize people without homes! How dare I claim to be a person of faith and secretly long not to be bothered by the pleas of another! How dare I claim to be a social justice activist without taking the time to name my own complicity in this system of oppression weighing this woman down right before my very eyes!
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Think. What do I have? What do I have to give? What do I have to offer?
A Starbuck’s app.
There was money on my account.
After 20 years in ministry, I understand the Apostle Peter on a deeper level: “But Peter said to him, ‘I have no money at all, but I give you what I have…’”(Acts 3:6, GNT).
But this isn’t about money. Yes, I would love to have a conversation about reparations for Black people in America. Yes, I am very interested in conversations about economic development and financial justice for all nonwhite people and poor white folks. Of course I’m interested in wealth management. That’s not what this is, though.
Before we can organize people, organize money or organize power to move us forward in the movement for collective liberation, we must be able to empathize with people across lines of difference.
Who says only white people are privileged? That’s a lie! Although we are not the beneficiaries of this culture of power in which we live, many nonwhite people sit in privileged positions. I am formally educated. That’s a privilege. My parents were married, lived in the same house and slept in the same bed every year of my life until my dad died. That’s a privilege. I make a living wage. That’s a privilege. I own a home. I own a car. I have access to healthcare and fresh fruit and vegetables. Those are privileges. How dare I deem myself too busy or too Black to figure out a creative way to use my privileges to liberate another! How dare I deem $2 too small to matter! How dare I not take advantage of every opportunity to free somebody, even temporarily while we work to permanently annihilate this system of oppression victimizing us all—Black and white alike!
Compassion. Empathy. Seeing. Hearing. Respecting. Loving.
Add this to money, policy changes, transformed hearts and minds, challenged thoughts and beliefs and authentic story sharing. That’s the recipe for long-lasting, sustainable change.
That’s how the movement will be realized in our lifetime.
Photo by Pilar Timpane