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NEWS Monthly Thoughts

May 2015

I was sitting in our dayroom, waiting for lunch to start. The homeless had been directed outside to queue up for the meal, and most of our security guards were busy with the lines. I was pretty much on my own.

Suddenly, someone came through the door. He was big, and very rough-looking. His eyes darted back and forth in a suspicious, predatory manner. I thought to myself,


I’d seen that look many times before, when someone was about to explode in rage. Now, as old as I am, I’ve always prided myself in thinking that I have at least one kill left in me if anyone might try to attack me. That confidence has faded since last summer’s heart surgery, so I was a little apprehensive about this guy, and not sure what I would do if things went south.

Then he saw me, and made tracks over to where I was sitting. I prepared myself for the worst

“Hey,” he said, “Where do I get diapers around here?”

I blinked. OK, maybe I read him wrong. Still, I didn’t want to set him off by telling him that the Women’s Center was closed for lunch, as was the Poverello Contact Office, which meant he would have to wait at least an hour to talk to someone about diapers.

However, there was nothing left to do but explain that both places were closed until after the meal. I could see the frustration rising in his face. I then remembered something in my pocket. I reached in and pulled out a grocery store gift card.

“Here,” I said. “You look like you’re new around here, and I know that when the kid needs diapers, he needs them now, not later. I don’t want to make you wait. That card should get you enough diapers to last for awhile.”

I handed him the card. He looked at it almost uncomprehending for a few seconds, then looked up at me. His eyes were starting to water. Before I knew what was happening, this big lug of a guy wrapped his arms around me and hugged me, thanking me over and over again.

So, I guess I misjudged him. What I interpreted as the furtive glances of an opportunistic, angry thug was probably just the nervous scrutiny of confusion and fear of the unknown. I was glad I could help him and that he was so grateful, but I was a little ashamed that I had so wrongly mistaken his intentions.

I had another surprise recently. A newcomer showed up one day, a man in his fifties. I met him outside and told him about the Poverello meals. I didn’t smell alcohol on him, but he nevertheless seemed kind of drifty and muddled. What I didn’t know was that he hadn’t eaten in several days.

He got in line. As he entered the dining room, all of a sudden he passed out. Nearby at a table was a woman who is well-known to us. She is generally loud, rude and hard to deal with. She saw what happened, and out of the blue, said, “Oh, one of God’s children passed out,” and brought her food tray over to the man.

I never would have expected this gal to share her food with anyone. She’s usually really obnoxious. Her act of spontaneous compassion showed me a completely different side of her. Once again, my preconceived notions about someone were proven to be off-base

I guess we’re never too old to learn. As many times as I’ve been surprised at Poverello, I’m still surprised when I’m surprised. People can be predictable—that is, until they’re unpredictable. If I can expect something negative from an individual, and he or she does something positive, then maybe I ought to be expecting more good things.

Cynicism is often a protective shell that we build up after many disappointments. Lord knows that I’ve had my share of disappointments, here at Poverello and in life, but that doesn’t give me the right to think the worst of someone. My prayer is that all of us can learn to cut people a little slack, both because they need it and because they may not neatly fit into the less-than-positive categories we assign to them.

Mike McGarvin, Founder/Fellowship Director