Friday, September 2, 2011

Lowest Common Denominator

Let's say his name is Sam.  You know him; everyone has seen him.  He's the homeless guy who occupies the same corner, travels the same route, has the same line to beg for some change on a cold winter's day.  He might live in a cardboard box.  He might live in a dumpster.  He reeks of unwashed clothes, food residue, and stale sweat. 

Sam doesn't talk about where he's been, how he got to live on the streets.  His main concern is the next muffin, the next cup of coffee, staying warm when the weather is cold, getting out of the biting January wind, staying safe from those who would take advantage of his powerlessness.  Most people avert their eyes from him.  Of those who do stop to talk, a number of them only do so to turn down his requests for change.  He goes into a store to get out of the elements.  The store clerks roll their eyes and if he stays too long, they call the police to escort him out.  Not that he's causing a disturbance.  His presence just makes shoppers uncomfortable.  It's bad for business.  

Photo found at
A lot of us don't like to look at Sam or at folks like him - those who've been reduced to the lowest common denominator - human and nothing but human, stripped of all the facades.  I wonder if it's because we might see something of ourselves in him, something that we hide away from in our everyday lives.  Something so unutterably soul-wrenching that it takes our breath away.  An honest, uncluttered representation of need.  

In a way, we are all Sam.  We all need someone to show us a little mercy.  We all need ... pure and simple.  Powerless, vulnerable, curious, lonely, needy people.  There is no call for us to declare ourselves (whether consciously or subconsciously) better than he is.  We all need love.  We all need healing.  

I wonder what would happen if the tables were suddenly turned and we who consider ourselves in the majority - or even in the right - were to suddenly find ourselves in the position of being in the minority, being seen as disposable, and/or having to depend upon others the way Sam is forced to do.  I wonder how much of our self-righteousness and superiority would disappear.  

Perhaps it's enough just to consider what it would feel like to put ourselves in his shoes. I hope so.


  1. I once was Sam on the outside, now I still find myself as Sam on the inside. I look better, smell better, have a roof over my head, food on my table and have more toys but recognize more than ever that the issue is not the outside. I need to be helped and healed constantly from the inside out, not the outside in.

  2. Exactly my friend.... Everyone is Sam whether we choose to admit it to ourselves or not. He is a metaphor for our own brokenness. This post is a call to honesty in the innermost part, to a cessation of Phariseeism ... and to a renewed compassion not only for the Sams of this world but for ourselves. Thank you for allowing me the chance to clarify. :D