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There but for the Grace of God

They say there’s one in every crowd, and I discovered that saying also applies to those who visit Joy Junction’s booth at the New Mexico State Fair.

Yesterday, eyes breathing fire, Nora (not her real name) stopped by to see us.

Nora wanted to tell me in no uncertain terms how upset she was with her neighbors. Almost in the space of one breath, she launched into a litany of complaints about their living habits.

“They’re lazy and they don’t get up until at least two o’ clock. But when they have money, they’re up at the casino. It’s not right. My tax dollars allow them to do that. We need to stop enabling them.”

Finally able to interject a brief word I said, “And what would happen if the government stopped helping them?”

“Why, they’d have to get a job,” Nora replied, apparently fully convinced that she had in one sentence solved all the problems inherent with dysfunctional families living on government assistance.

I asked Nora why she thought her neighbors behaved in such a fashion. To me the most important question has become “why” and not “what.”

“They’re lazy,” she replied a little indignantly.

Taking advantage of a brief opportunity while she caught a (much needed) breath, I asked her, “Okay, if they’re ‘lazy,’ why do you think that is?”

I quickly continued, “Had you thought that there could be mental health issues involved, such as depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or even emotional problems resulting from abuse or other difficult situations?”

“There’s nothing wrong with them,” Nora replied quickly.

“How do you know?” I responded, a question to which Nora had no answer.

While I understand Nora’s concern about what she considered the misuse of her tax dollars, her willingness to deny a family help on the grounds that it would force them to successfully obtain employment caused me great concern. She assumed there are jobs for the taking that would supply the resources necessary for this family’s survival.

What I suspect she hadn’t contemplated was if the family had children, what could be done with them if their mom and dad just didn’t make it and perhaps got evicted. Would this lady want to see youngsters starve or placed in the custody of the state? I hope not. Even if there were no children, do we place a husband and wife in a situation where the street becomes their “home?”

Her over simplistic solution was riddled with profound holes which she was not willing to address.

At the very least, this family needed love, encouragement and therapy to see what was going on in their lives that was causing them to stay in bed until early afternoon. From a totally non-medical perspective, her description of her neighbors sounded like they were suffering from untreated or incorrectly medicated clinical depression. In addition, they also needed financial counseling and assistance for a possible gambling addiction.

But that wasn’t the only declaration of judgment I’ve heard pronounced upon the homeless recently.

A call to our downtown corporate offices served to shock me further, although perhaps it shouldn’t have done.

Another indignant soul told one of my staff that if we were “real Christians,” we would take the homeless to the tunnels they lived in and equip them with shovels and garbage bags to clean up their mess. Until then, she said, she wouldn’t support us and we should (in her opinion) stop playing on people’s sympathies.

While we have thousands of wonderful people in Albuquerque, this lack of understanding and compassion is nothing short of flabbergasting. Of course, as our Volunteer Coordinator Jonathan Matheny astutely and consistently reminds me, the gambling or the alcohol are not the real problem. They are symptoms of the issue. Why did these precious but troubled individuals resort to excessive life destroying gambling and inappropriate alcohol consumption in the first place? Why? Why? Why?

Of course, Jonathan continued, “The problem with ‘Why?’ is it requires more time, compassion, patience and prayer than most people are willing to give. It requires sacrifice.”

So while I pray that no mental health issue or devastating tragedy ever drives those two critical individuals to inappropriate activities that result in hunger or homelessness, we all need to remember that “There but for the grace of God go you and I.”

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