The frigid fingers of winter, long and cold and callous,
can tear at the fibers of compassion when the homeless are
left to fend for themselves in cardboard homes behind
picket fences stitched together with razor wire and disdain.
Whose brother is that man behind the dumpster, shivering
in temperatures that turn water to ice and hope to fear?
Whose sister is that woman, wrapped in threadbare blankets,
wondering how to temper the pain of freezing to death?
Whose daughter is the girl struggling to save her own
child by sharing with her the only thing left to give, body heat?
Whose son is the teen under the bridge, wishing his family
had not abandoned him when he needed them most?
We can call them the ugly indolents, casualties of their own
bad choices and deserving of disapproval and contempt;
we can assign to them full blame for their situations,
absolving us of any responsibility for their welfare.
Or we can practice compassion, regardless of whether they
are victims of circumstance or paying the price of bad
decisions and raw imprudence; we can offer shelter
from cruel winds and judgment, a respite from pain.
A warm shelter on a cold night can save a life and delay
the slide toward intractable and incurable despondency,
but one night is not the answer; compassion seeks not just
to mask the symptoms but to unearth and apply the cure.
We can chose to cast a blameful stare or we can opt
for compassion, seek a solution, and retain our humanity.
I wrote this after watching a documentary on homelessness on PBS, @home.