Ted Williams lived on the street, but not anymore.
According to his 9o-year-old mother, he destroyed his family with drugs, left to stand on a street corner with a tattered cardboard sign in Columbus, Ohio.
Williams’ story is like so many others – surviving on the street, asking for handouts, unable to sustain a job or a safe place to stay each night.
My favorite part of this story is not that Williams now has job offers from Kraft, the Cleveland Cavaliers or appeared showered and clean-shaven on “The Early Show” and “Good Morning America.” My favorite part of this story is about Doral Chenoweth III, the local man who stopped to speak to Williams a week prior to capturing the video.
On his way to Lowe’s with his wife, Chenoweth stopped and talked to Williams. He didn’t lock his doors. He didn’t stare straight ahead hoping to avoid any possibility of eye contact. He didn’t tell him to just get a job because anyone can work – it’s America. He didn’t question. He just stopped, said hello and validated the humanity of the stranger.
“It’s part of my faith,” Chenoweth said in a CNN interview. “You may not be able to help someone with money, but you can at least say hello, how you doing, and look at them.”
We will always have tattered signs on the street corner. Even God told the Israelites that the poor would always be with them. But how do we look past that sign?
We ask God to help us see beyond the piece of cardboard, beyond the broken shell of a person. They are on that corner for a reason. There is a story there. It might be substance abuse. It might be mental illness. It might be disability. It might be they are escaping from an abusive situation. It might be circumstances beyond their control. It might be that they are not wise with their finances. It might be the result of a natural disaster. It might be they are perfectly content on the street. It might be that they really are lazy and taking advantage of “the system.” But there are also a lot of people wearing nice suits who take advantage as well. And we don’t know a person’s story until we ask.
Can I save everyone from financial despair and pull them from their pit? No, and I don’t think I am called to. But I am called to love them. I can say hello. I can share a meal under the bridge. I can spend some time listening about their week or their life. I can pray for them and with them.
But most often, I can smile. Because whether you reside in a shelter or on a park bench or in a cookie-cutter home in the suburbs or a loft downtown, everybody hurts at one time or another; everybody makes mistakes at one time or another. But saying hello and smiling at person, on the street corner or not, says, “I see you. You are a person. You do have value even though it may not look like it or you may not feel like it.” And some days, that’s all we need.