Recently I had the unique opportunity to perform at a church youth group for a special night. The ending of this night was a surprise in that rather than just affecting the crowd in a big way, I impacted myself too.
The evening was called "Random Acts of Kindness" and was put on by a friend in AZ. The idea was that I would come into his church just as mass was ending and wander around through the church, dressed up as a homeless person. It was a great idea. I was to see how folks reacted to me for about 20 minutes and then I would join the youth group meeting and process out with them the results of what I saw and what they felt about the experience.
It went well. I had applied makeup to give my skin a more sunburned look and wore my grungiest clothes. I looked like a stereotypical street corner homeless person, without going overboard. I even had a shopping cart.
Once I started wandering through the crowd at the church, something happened that I did not expect. The people actually treated me like a homeless person and I started to feel like one. I felt an overwhelming helplessness and vulnerability around these folks. Everyone was dressed very nicely and I clearly stuck out. They also clearly noticed my uniqueness in that crowd.
I was careful not to make eye contact with anyone and moved quite cautiously through the crowd. Some people went out of their way...to get out of my mine. Others offered me money and asked me to go away. Parents kept their children clear from my path. I donít blame any of these folks, I did look bad. I am also 6í3" with a football player (an overweight one) build. Iím sure I probably looked like trouble to them.
In contrast, there were also a few folks who went out of their way to see if I really needed help or if I was ok. One of them was the pastor of the church who had been alerted to my presence. Another was a teen in the youth group who gave me some water and checked if I was ok. They blew me away with their very simple kindness and caring about my wellfare.
Once the act came to a close and I let them in on the secret, we began sharing stories of our experiences with real homeless. The stories we shared we both humorous and heartwrenching as people told of their own inability to really "know" how to deal with homelessness. We also discovered the homeless are not a separate group of people, but rather are us. Everyone in the room was a candidate for homelessness with just a few hardships or bad situations. We all agreed we had a lot to learn about the real problem and how we should respond to it.
The end result of this evening was two-fold:
1- The teens and youth minister are planning trips to the local homeless shelter to prepare meals and spend time with the folks who are looking for help.
2- I have a greater, if not limited, appreciation of the vulnerability and helplessness that lives in the hearts of some of the folks who are homeless and I am still considering my role in sharing this with others.
This article was written by Mike Abrams, one of the founders of Storyteller.net. Originally published in 2000.