Monday, February 25, 2013

Feelings of Guilt

The other day, late morning I was walking through downtown Northampton and I passed a number of homeless people holding signs asking for help in one way or another.

As someone who grew up in NY and frequently visited NYC I was taught at an early age to smile and walk by.  This 'skill' was also useful when I traveled to other countries where poverty is much more common and begging on the street is frequent.  Have I become jaded to the needs of others?  Is this truly a skill or is it sad that I can just walk by and not react.  How much of this is wrapped in privilege? 

Well this week when I walked by, it was a time of day where there were not many people out and about so I was super conscious of what was going on around me and as I strolled down the street with my $4 chai in one hand and my yoga bag over my shoulder I had an overwhelming feeling of guilt.  Here I am thinking that I may struggle to pay my rent by summertime yet on occasion I can treat myself to a $4 chai.  I know that even though I am not working a full time job at the moment I am continually doing things to better myself and my situation and I am not sitting by and letting time just pass, I know this for me.  However this day more then ever I felt this guilt.

I shared this with some friends the other night and through processing I really think that my connection to this community makes me feel a deeper connection to the people in it even if we have never interacted.  As I walked by I wanted to know their story, to treat them to a cup of coffee and my empathy took over and I really wanted to understand their situation.  I do not know if it was fear or embarrassment but I did not stop and ask, I just kept walking by with my head hanging low.  What was the worse that could happen they tell me none of my business.  I hope to get over this and connect in someway to this very real part of my community.  

I am sure this is a story that others can relate to and I would love to hear how you have figured this out for yourself. 


  1. I think it is always tough when you see others in need but you don't know why they are in need or if you can really help. If you give $1.00 to a homeless man but fear he will buy liquor with it, will you ever feel good about giving up that dollar? Did you even help that man or did you become part of the problem? In the past I had the same struggles that you have. I spoke with a friend and she gave me some very good advice. She told me this .... "pray about it." So I did. I prayed and I asked God to let me know when I should share my resources with someone in need. I didn't know exactly how he would let me know, so I kept second guessing what I should do each time I came across someone in need. I have since figured out how I will know. He will put this burning desire in my heart to help that person. It will be so strong that it's almost impossible to ignore. And I will listen and i will know that I did the right thing for the right person. It sounds to me that He speaks to you in the same way. That desire that you had to not only give, but also to listen, I think that was the day you were supposed to take action. But I think you will have another opportunity. Just listen to that voice within you and be guided by it. I admire your desire to get to know these people of your community, so do it, don't hold back (just be safe though) take a step in the direction of helping someone less fortunate than yourself. You'll be amazed at the stories you'll here. My suggestion, if it seems awkward to drop a few quarters in a strangers hat, try this instead : next time you go for a chai, buy a small coffee as well, black, maybe grab a few sugars on your way out the door. When you feel your gut, that Holy Spirit instinct, give that coffee to someone in need. You will know who and you'll be certain of who it is. Then it's up to you, either pass on the coffee and walk away, or present both the coffee and an opportunity to talk. It will cost you more than those few quarters, but I think you will find it a good experience. Just one (okay 2) more things. Don't be surprised if he asks you for cream, or tells you that's not the way he drinks his coffee. Just the same as I won't eat fish, nobody else is going to eat what they don't like. Don't be insulted if that happens. 2nd thing...... It's also okay to ask someone if they would like to go with you to get the coffee for them. Depending upon what type of area you are in this may or may not be a good idea. Good luck. I hope to read another post after you have discovered your way of blessing others. -K

    "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" - Matthew 25:40

    1. Thank you for sharing this. I am still deciding what I will do and when, but I know that I will do something; I do and will trust my gut. I volunteer at the Northampton Survival Center ( and take time to speak with the clients that we serve and listen to their stories when they are forthcoming with them and I know they really appreciate knowing that they are seen just like you and I.