I needed to visit a store yesterday to pick up something necessary for a creative project, so in the hour before the stores opened, my husband and I took our early-morning Saturday walk in the shopping district of downtown Olympia.
There, on the Fourth Avenue sidewalk, we were approached by a tall, bony woman with a story to tell:
She had been living at the Salvation Army.
Some of the other women didn't like her so she had been forced to leave.
She didn't know what she was going to do as she lacked even the necessary bus fare to get to her job.
Could we give her just a dollar or something to help her out?
"And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish." Mosiah 4:16
In spite of her apparent heart-felt sincerity and anxiety, I was about 95 percent certain that she was lying to us. She seemed to be a gifted actress, and I was awed by her skills. She appeared to be so genuine, but the bus-fare story is awfully familiar to me. I have seen too often how those who are desperate will manipulate caring people. And, sure enough, even after she had plenty of bus fare in her pockets, she continued to approach strangers on the streets.
"Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just--" Mosiah 4:17
All the same, I was not troubled or turned away by her lies. I simply desired to help her, and not because there was in my mind a 5 percent chance that she was telling the truth. I simply desired to help her and it did not matter to me why she begged, or what she was going to do with the money.
"But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God." Mosiah 4:18
Before I could follow my own impulse to give, my husband reached into his wallet and handed her a five-dollar bill. She thanked us profusely, even giving each of us a hug. I wondered if the hugs were attempts to pick our pockets, but sharing them was worth the danger. Her apparent gratitude was profuse. I was happy to hug her. I was warmed by that connection.
My husband and I had merely sacrificed the difference between eating a fast-food meal out or eating from one of our many choices back at our lovely home.
"For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?" Mosiah 4:19
We continued on our way. I almost broke into tears as we walked the next couple of blocks.
Because that woman could be me.
"And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another." Mosiah 4: 21
There I was, walking down the sidewalk in my new wool coat, arm in arm with the dear man who loves me and takes care of me.
"And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they." Jacob 2:13
My illness makes following a series of steps impossible. What if I had to follow seventeen steps to get food or shelter or warmth? The people on the street are often criticized for not taking advantage of the community resources available to them. Would I be able to access such resources with my current lack of mental health? I cannot imagine riding a bus to get to where I needed to go. I cannot imagine being clear enough in my mind to fill out one government form, let alone a stack of them. I cannot imagine sleeping in a strange room full of strange people. It is so far beyond my scope of possibilities that I cannot even imagine it.
"And now, my brethren, I have spoken unto you concerning pride; and those of you which have afflicted your neighbor, and persecuted him because ye were proud in your hearts, of the things which God hath given you, what say ye of it?
"Do ye not suppose that such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh? And the one being is as precious in his sight as the other. . . . " Jacob 2: 20-21
This I can imagine--
I can imagine that I could muster up the ability to accomplish three simple steps:
"Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you." Jacob 2:17
As I have striven to think of my brethren like unto myself, the plight of the mentally ill has become very familiar. Perhaps what Jacob was saying when he counseled us to "be familiar with all," was that we need to see through the mind of another. I am finding that as life is forcing me to do so, I am experiencing a growing desire that all may be rich like unto me. In light of all that I know from firsthand experience, being free with my substance seems like a very little thing.
Read more on a similar topic at Green Mormon Architect's post about beggars at the temple.
Originally uploaded by _aeb
A thank you to _aeb for sharing this illustration on flickr.com.