One Saturday afternoon, I was fishing with shrimp in the brackish waters between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach across the street from First Baptist Church when a vagabond approached me for money. Silver and gold had I very little, but what I had, I offered him, that is, an ear. And he filled it with his obviously mendacious story, which was most certainly rehearsed and worked-on and worked-out through his years of handling the pan. As full of contradictions as his tale was, it was fascinating the way each episode made him look like a benignly resilient victim of the most awful circumstances.
The bottom line was that although he was a good guy, a stellar father, an ideal husband, a perfect son and brother, neither his ex-wife nor anyone in his family would have anything to do with him because they were selfish and unloving, especially in times of great financial need, such as this time right now. Well, I was fishing for real fish, but I fished in my pocket and retrieved my wallet and, knowing all along that it would not be wise to give this prevaricator money, doled out the few bills I had, all ones. I also told him about nearby Samaritan Gardens, a homeless shelter operated by First Baptist. He grabbed the bills gratefully and went on down the waterway towards the shelter, saying over his shoulder, “I hope your generosity brings you good luck—may you catch a big one.” I never got another bite that afternoon.
I watched him as he turned into the office of Samaritan Gardens and felt satisfied that I had helped the man. You see, the church had purchased a motel adjacent to their property and turned it into a nice set of apartments to temporarily house the homeless. The staff worked with local businesses and employment specialists to get jobs for those who dwelt there. The number one rule was that if Samaritan Gardens got you a job, you took it. If you refused the job, you lost your apartment. Fair enough, right? Well, there were those who refused to work and, sure enough, they found themselves back on the streets. I hope they found my new acquaintance a job and I hope he took it and got back on his feet long enough to be reconciled with his loved ones.
Because of my observations of the homeless both in California and Florida (and to some degree in Texarkana), I feel that the First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach had the best idea. Help people help themselves. It is analogous to a good theory of education: teach people to be their own teachers. If you stimulate curiosity and demonstrate research methods, you have provided tools that truly educate.
It amounts to the same thing. Every worthwhile goal requires effort and sometimes that effort is difficult indeed. We must remember also that sometimes the reward for good work is more work. The answer to that one is to unite your vocation with your avocation as your two eyes make one in sight. Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time” clarifies the concept.