He always looked back

Owen wasn’t a Phil Collins fan, but he liked tonight’s song – for one reason.  Collins had the clout to sing about something few people want to talk about – poverty, homelessness. 

I don’t know why Owen saw people on the streets the way he did, when they’re invisible to so many of us.  But, he did.  He always gave them food, money, cigarettes, whatever he had on him – that they didn’t.  

We talked about the various street-corner scams run by unscrupulous preditors.  He knew that sometimes his gifts went to people who were victims, not of homelessness, but of those people at the hands of the “hand-out” machinery. 

Owen didn’t care about the scams.  He thought it was better to take the chance that he was helping someone truly in need, than to become cynical and hold tight to his few dollars, when those few bucks could feed someone for the night.  He also knew that food wasn’t always the targeted purchase.  Again, he didn’t care.  He said if someone was willing to stand on a street corner and beg for money or food, and he had either one and could easily get more by going to work the next day, then what did it matter if he gave it away?  Maybe, just maybe, it would help that person, and maybe someday that nameless person could find another way to help themselves. 

I couldn’t argue with him when he made sense like this.  When I tried, he came back with answers like, “what if she really is hungry?”  Owen gave away a lot of money over the years, to people holding cardboard signs on street corners, to friends who said they would – but never paid him back, even to people who stole from him when he knew they had done so. 

I never figured it out, really.  He just didn’t have much use for money, when someone else thought they needed it more than he did.  I suppose some people would find him lacking in common sense for this habit, but it wasn’t that.  I watched it for years.  I think it was a form of innocence, maybe naivite, maybe something based in a kind of faith I don’t have.  I always felt proud of him for his selflessness.  

Owen didn’t think having money could make a difference in how the world treats us.  He hated watching us struggle in the very lean years, but we didn’t do things very differently whether times were good or bad financially.  He thought it would be great to be wealthy, but mostly, just so he could give away more money.  He often said that people with lots of money have just as many, if not more problems, than people with very little of it.  This, I know to be true. 

Song for the night:  Another Day in Paradise, Phil Collins



~ by Linda on January 28, 2008.

2 Responses to “He always looked back”

  1. One of the students who went on our trip to Peru remarked that for Christmas this year, he went around and had a friend take a photo of himself giving a twenty dollar bill to a homeless person in Chicago. He had these pictures framed and gave them to various loved ones with the message penned across the picture, “Here’s what I did with your Christmas money this year.” What an interesting student!

    After being down in Peru, one thing I have resolved is to go back to serving at the local homeless shelter. Not sure why, but this seems a no-brainer to me now.

  2. I see the needs of the people on the street is a different light, now.

    Thank You, Owen.

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