by Mike Melara, Executive Director
During a recent trip to Washington, DC for a conference, I found myself enjoying the 60-degree weather as I walked from the conference center to the Lincoln Memorial. It is a ritual for me. Every time I’m in DC, I make a point of visiting the Memorial. Moreover, every time I see it, I am overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the statue, its brilliant white marble stone, and the focused gaze of the Great Emancipator. It’s a holy place that needs to be treated with reverence and respect.
On my way back to my hotel, I encountered no less than a half dozen homeless encampments. There’s no effort to hide them. They are visible and exist in open areas and “parks.” There are makeshift tents, blanketed park benches, cardboard edifices – all sorts of contraptions that represent a form of shelter.
I decided to stop and talk to one of the residents. His name is Hector, and I found him preparing a park bench with blankets. He was expecting a cold evening. I introduced myself and told him what I do for a living. I asked why he didn’t go to a shelter. He was reluctant to respond. I asked if he had food. Again, he reluctantly said he was okay. We departed, but I couldn’t stop thinking about him for the rest of the day.
Equipped with a bag of food, I visited Hector the next day. I found him in the exact same spot doing the exact same thing as the day before… laying out his blankets. He remembered me and smiled. I asked if it was okay to leave him some food. He was happy to receive it. We talked for a while and took a picture together. I told him I would pray for him and he thanked me.
I don’t know how to reconcile the majestic images of Lincoln, enshrined, and Hector, who lives in the shadow of the Memorial. His few possessions were on display as he made his bed for the evening. Hundreds of people passing by but none really seeming to notice. I thought, “This is what it’s like to be invisible.”
I left Washington with one thought. We can do better. As an agency, as a people, as a country. We can start by seeing the divine presence in everyone we encounter. I have Hector to thank for that.