When the Chaplain was a Beggar


This NPR story about an old beggar in Bangladesh got me thinking.

It’s good when stories make you think, isn’t it?

But this wasn’t exactly a good memory.

I was a Jail Chaplain. . .and had a family member in prison.

I was a Street Chaplain. . .and went through homelessness myself.

For periods of my life I was a beggar.  No, not living the rough and dangerous life “on the street” but I was not sure where “home” was–I had no permanent home (is there permanence when it comes to housing?).  I depended on others to help me.  I had to.

I had a master’s degree, but wasn’t able to master my own life.

I felt humiliated, depressed, thought of suicide.  But the thought of my young daughter without a father gave me a focus outside myself.  With substantial assistance from others, and a certain amount of “faith” in myself and “faith” in a Great Spirit (at that time), I made it through.

An office administrator who knew my predicament collected cash from her colleagues.  One day in her office she pointed to an envelope on her desk.  “That’s for you.”  Inside was about $500.  I hugged her, and cried.  A graduate student broke the rules and let me sleep on her dorm room floor.  The managers of a small non-profit housing agency let my daughter and me sleep on the floor of their office for a few weeks.

Compassion often breaks the rules.

During one “transition” I stayed in someone’s basement.  It was a fairly nice basement–a roof over my head–but it was a scary time.  For another (thankfully short) time, I lived in a tent in a State Park.  It was winter and rained nearly every day.

Without the help of others I’m sure I wouldn’t have survived.  I know that sounds dramatic, but I sense it was true.

Over my years as a Chaplain, being with countless women and men who live on the edge every day, I have never forgotten those tough times when I needed just a little help, or a lot of help. . .

when I was a beggar.


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