From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul


Charity sees the need, not the cause.

German Proverb

For many years now I’ve struggled with my purpose, working in what is a very high-crime area. I’ve encountered prostitutes performing sex acts on clients in the alley as I took out the trash. I’ve had heated discussions with the City to enforce health laws with other business owners, as transients would leave behind feces in and around trash areas. I’ve picketed and even faced the City Council, pleading that they close down adult bookstores in the neighborhood. I’ve seen the corruption and the destruction pornography can do to people’s lives, especially to the children in our neighborhood. I’ve found myself on several occasions driving to work in tears, asking God, “What is it that I’m supposed to be doing here?”

About a year ago I met John. He’s what many people might call a street person, or a panhandler. Most might even call him crazy.

When I first met John, he came by my office selling cigarette lighters, two for a dollar. I’d probably never have thought much more about him, but a few days later he stopped in again just to ask if I minded if he drank water from our water fountain. We talked for a while. As he left he apologized for taking up so much of my time.

John came from a wealthy family. At one time he had it all by today’s standards: a home, a boat, a business, and he even flew a plane. He stood to inherit enough money to live his retirement years comfortably anywhere in the world he would have liked to. The very sad thing about John is that he has never felt loved. Certainly he has never experienced unconditional love before. As an adult he suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome (stemming from service in Vietnam) and depression (because of a few sad events that drew his beloved little girl away from him). John decided to walk away from his life as he had known it.

Looking at John today, you might think I am crazy to believe in him, and that he does not have much to offer this world anymore. You would be very sadly mistaken. Besides offering me practical advice on how not to go crazy in life, when he visits he pumps me with self-esteem and pride as a person. He is one of the kindest people I know. He’s borrowed money to buy milk for a lady and her children that he had met on the street, and we’ve shared stories of how we have both helped the same elderly man that stands on a nearby corner with a sign that says, “Will work for food.” (The poor soul can hardly stand with the help of his cane, much less work.)

John tells me how sad it is that people go without lunch, when he gets a free lunch every day at the park. After the school bus leaves with the children on their field trips, he pulls their unopened milk cartons and uneaten lunches out of the trash can. He helped get a prostitute into a home for abused women and has written a letter of recommendation to help her get her daughter back.

I can always tell when John has had a hard time fighting his depression, as I won’t see him for a few days. Then he shows up looking a little tired from the wear on his body, but with a story to share about a book he has read, a new person he has met on the street, or possibly even about being beaten up by someone.

On June fifteenth the apple of his eye will graduate with honors from California State University at Santa Barbara. He has hired a taxi to drive him there. The taxi driver (who knows him) will take his own private vehicle, so that John will not embarrass his daughter in any way. John will bathe, shave and put on an old suit to go and watch his little girl receive her degree. My heart is happy yet broken for him, as I’ve mentally thought of what he will be going through when he sees her walk up on stage to receive her degree. I can feel the love and pride that he feels collide with the hurt and regret. I pray that when the time comes, God will sustain him and help him get through it. I will hold my friend up in thought and spirit and once again, my heart will break with his.

“Do you know they say I’m crazy?”

I smile. “I don’t think you’re crazy, John.”

There are times I envy a part of John’s life. There are no earthly things he is attached to—only the desire to love others and to be loved. Maybe someday, even unconditionally.

Tomorrow, on my way to work once again, I will struggle and ask God, “What was it I’m supposed to be doing down here, Lord?” And probably he will send another person, from whose shoes I am not worthy of wiping the dirt, and I’ll do my best to love him.

Terry O’Neal

“We can’t have any children.”

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