We called her The Napkin Lady. She’d come into the restaurant during off hours like after lunch. She’s order something small from the swing shift waitress. And then, when she was in the empty-ish dining room, she’d grab all the napkins from the settings of the neighboring tables and head for the bathroom. The toilets in the lady’s room would always be stopped up after her visits.

Baltimore on the Fallsway on Shalavee.com

I’d like to tell you that we all felt sorry for her. We kinda did but that toilet situation made it difficult for those of us who had to clean up the overflow. And eventually she was given a warning. I don’t know if she was banned. But I do know that she was also a “cat collector” and lived right down the street so that I would walk by her house occasionally. She was weird but sweet. And no one wanted her shame to rub off on them.

parking curbs on Shalavee.com

We distance ourselves from people who seem needy or less fortunate. As if shame and misfortune and self-loathing may be contagious. Who wants to serve the homeless food at the holidays when it reminds people of where they never want to be? Let’s go the mall instead where everything is OK, shiny, and perfect. Why bring the holiday mood down by taking a hard look at where we could go but for the grace of God.

Goldborough house in Denton, Maryland on Shalavee.com

Sure I find myself frustrated when I am confronted with homeless men at every stop light in downtown Baltimore holding cardboard signs claiming their shameful plight. I don’t ever remember there being this many of them. And I am very tempted to take the beltway round next time. Because I don’t want that poverty and need in my face. Somehow it reflects badly of society or the city and of me.

Behind the building on Shalavee.com

But what if we didn’t cause it and we came from a place of compassion for the people who are whacked and downtrodden. What if we disengaged from all the judgements and defenses and panic and just sat with the idea that world cooks up lots and lots of recipes for people and not all of them are good. But there they are and deserve to be seen but not necessarily fixed by you or me. If we didn’t make it about us then maybe we sometimes could make it about them. And show our humanity every once in a while.

If you have any thoughts, please drop a word below in the comments. Or

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  1. I truly understand your confusion about how to handle poverty when it’s right before us. That said, being a lifetime Baltimorean, I say, be careful around the sign toting or approaching homeless person. Not all, but enough to warrent a warning are aggressive and won’t take no or avoidance for and answer. I’m All about helping those less fortunate, but be careful out there!

    1. There are no sign holders down on the Shore Leslie. And I do think I may end up taking the beltway more often than not when I come to town, Or give up Martin Luther King Boulevard. As for helping, our fellowship helps with housing and feeding the homeless down here in Easton during the coldest months of the winter and that is how we’ll help out. No worries Lesli.

  2. Some panhandlers make more money than people with a real job.  The shame must have occurred a long time ago with the rug yanked from underneath to get to such a place.  More shame won’t fix the problem, but it’s been made illegal in Portland, ME.

    I may be poor, but you don’t see me at a curb holding up a sign…as result you see me making any money at all.

    1. Poor and in debt is different than needy and homeless. Some people have mental illness and are fine when they’re medicated and on the street when their not. That each of us has someone who cares, even in a dysfunctional way, enough about us to to keep us from this plight. And having enough to eat seems a more serious problem in neighborhoods everywhere. Do something, anything to make it about someone else is all I can hope. Because all the asking everywhere can make us indifferent.
      Happy Holiday to you Adam.

      1. I know about the mental illness aspect.  There were quite the number of new homeless out on the street when a mental hospital closed down in one of the States (I forget which).  You didn’t mention that in the post.

        1. Nope. Because my posts are meant to invoke a human feeling not beleaguer statistics. Not everything is always necessary to include. Be cool dude.
          With love,

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