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I bought this portable meal, a Lunchables, to give to a homeless person. So why is it still sitting in my refrigerator?

Lunchable

Last week I planned to give this lunch to the next person I saw holding a “Hungry & Homeless – Will you Help?” sign as I waited in my car for the traffic light to change on a busy boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida, a city that attracts the destitute for several reasons including its mild climate.

Sure enough, I was first in line at the red light leaving the grocery store, and I spotted a downtrodden young woman looked eager for my help. I popped the trunk and jumped out of the car, intending to offer her the lunch, but she declined, “No, ma’m. That won’t help at all. I need $ 99.00 to blah – blah – blah.” No, I didn’t give her $ 99.00 because I never give cash to the homeless. Instead, I give to the needy through our church or through homeless shelters in town.

Yet, this brief encounter left me conflicted, with two opposing strong sentiments: a Yes and a No

Yes, I did feel cynical as the light turned green, knowing the woman was probably scamming people. No, I will never stop feeling sorry for the “homeless” regardless of their intentions whether it’s a real physical need to survive, untreated mental illness or something else.

Giving money to the homeless is an economic crisis of the heart, a tug-of-war between the instinct to alleviate suffering and the knowledge that a donation might encourage, rather than relieve, the anguish of the poor.        The Atlantic

On my nightstand sat a copy of The Invisible Thread: The true story of an 11-year-old panhandler, a busy sales executive, and an unlikely meeting with destiny. It was time to read it!

AnInvisibleTHreadCover

An Invisible Thread, a Review

“Excuse me, lady, do you have any spare change? I’m hungry.” Those were the first words out of the mouth of Maurice, as Laura Schroff, a publishing executive at Time Inc, rounded the corner from Broadway to 45th Street in New York City. She passed him by, but something special in his eyes halted her and she turned on her heel and, nearly killing herself in traffic, went back. Thus their paths converged and the story of a thirty-year relationship began.

No, Miss Laura did not give Maurice spare change but on the spot she took him to McDonald’s for a Big Mac, large fries, and milkshake. Then over the years they met every Monday night often at her luxury apartment where Maurice learned about ritual and rules for living: sitting down to eat a meal, showing up on time for school. Laura’s cozy nest provided a safe haven, an escape from his one-room hotel room, a den of violence where 10-12 assorted needy “friends” and family flopped to sleep off a drug binge or cook crack to deal on the streets.

Not until Chapter 8 does the reader learn about the tug on the other end of the invisible thread – the unspeakable violence in Laura’s middle-class childhood home where a father in drunken rages would fling full liquor bottles against the wall and destroy his son’s sports trophies.

She admits, “I couldn’t help but think that the terror and uncertainty we faced as children because of my father was similar to the chaos that Maurice now had to endure.” (107)

Laura’s memoir, reminiscent of The Blind Side, interweaves three dynamic narratives: The first, the story of Laura and Maurice’s growing relationship. Secondly, Laura’s back story as both victim and then survivor of her dysfunctional home. And finally, Maurice’s maturation into an adult with a family of his own, reflecting what Joseph Campbell calls “the hero’s journey” often fraught with obstacles and setbacks.

Maurice & Laura, Google Image

Maurice & Laura, Google Image

I began reading the book because I was intrigued by the disparity between an accomplished woman in Manhattan and a needy young boy from Brooklyn. I was compelled to read on because I wanted answers: Why would a young woman who helped make USA Today and InStyle successful publications risk all to build trust with a young man who had nothing to offer in return? How did a ill-kempt beggar boy, who has since developed a career in construction and is raising his own family, enrich that woman’s own life?

In the end, Author Schroff realizes that both she and Maurice had traveled together on a voyage of self-discovery. Her message: “This is a book about how, if we learn to let go of fears and burdens and expectations, we can find ourselves plunged into the sweet, unplanned blessings of life” (book blurb).

After thoughts

Should you give money to homeless people? According to the article in The Atlantic: “The short answer is no. The long answer is yes, but only if [you do it through] an organization that can ensure the money is spent wisely.”

But maybe . . . if you are someone with the incredible courage of Laura Schroff, there is still another answer.

Click here for a short video, a Lunch Date with Destiny

Your thoughts, always welcome!