"There but for the grace of God, go I." Originally attributed to John Bradford in the 16th century, upon witnessing a group of prisoners headed to execution. Bradford, ironically, was burned at the stake, imprisoned and executed for his religious beliefs. His words speak to me as I walk through the streets of Los Angeles and see the anonymous bodies of the homeless suffering their own imprisonment. I feel that but for some kind of grace, there is no reason it should not be me.
People matter. But you have to see them first. The homeless are nameless, without history, easily ignored and rejected.
How can they have been so unlucky, so lacking in what I have received so undeservingly and freely?
Why not me? I cannot claim any attribute that I deserve that makes me more worthy than any of them. And what is the proper response? Pity? That seems disgustingly pretensious, ignorant, naive of my own undeserved privelege.
John Paul Sartre said, "the poor don't know that their function in life is to exercise our generosity." That to me is the profound truth. Not pity, not sympathy, not even kindness is worthy of these men and women who exist anonymously on our streets. There is one thing and one thing we owe them, generosity...of means, of spirit, of humanity.
But for the grace of God...