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Speer: Be thankful for what you’ve been given

December 21, 2012
Bill Speer - Editor/Publisher , The Alpena News

I'm thankful.

I'm thankful for so many things, but today I'm particularly thankful for a roof over my head, warm food and a place to lie my head each evening.

I'm thankful for places like the Sunrise Mission and St. Bernard's Friendship Room, for the Salvation Army, Trinity Episcopal Church and a host of other groups and most importantly, volunteers, who address the needs of our region's less fortunate.

I just returned from San Francisco, where Diane and I attended a family wedding. We took advantage while there in the time not related to family commitments to explore the city.

First, while we were without transportation, it didn't slow us one bit from exploring most of the major neighborhoods of the city. San Francisco is blessed with a great public transportation system - easily accessible and reasonably priced. Mainly by foot, but also by cable car and trolly, we covered the city's streets.

And, unfortunately, on practically every city block of this great city rested another homeless person or panhandler.

Initially it was overwhelming and depressing, for you quickly come to realize that no matter how well intentioned you want to be from your heart, there isn't enough money to stop and share with each person you pass.

Later, you become almost desensitized to the sight of another person snoring away the day wrapped in a sleeping bag in the middle of the park, or pass another pushing a shopping cart presumably filled with their life's possessions inside.

Such sights overwhelmed me and left lasting impressions I know I'll never forget. I remember taking our family years ago to other big cities, and the impressions the homeless left with each of my boys. But this trip, walking so many street corners and passing so many homeless everywhere, left me frustrated. Probably the Christmas season also played into my emotions, but I felt we as a country have to do more to tend to these people's needs.

Mind you, I believe the folks in San Francisco are doing all they can. In fact, from what I read and researched, one reason there are so many homeless in San Francisco is because of the way the community cares and treats them. They are accepted and tolerated and unless violent, pretty much left alone.

Except, since they are everywhere, alone isn't really factual.

We stopped at a city park and in every corner either sat a homeless person or someone was sleeping. An errant frisbee that ends up in a bush might wake up the person sleeping under its branches.

Only one time did I witness an act of defiance - if you call throwing a discarded umbrella at a taxi defiant. Immediately after doing so the person began a Yoga-like chant and dance that reminded me of someone calling upon his God for intervention.

It's hard not to be impacted. Sitting inside an intimate restaurant and enjoying dinner one evening, Diane turned and asked me whether I had witnessed the person across the street who had just gone through the public trash receptacle and removed a discarded end of a sandwich and the remains of some beverage in a cup.

I had not, but not two minutes later another person appeared within my view and repeated the same process - two bites and the leftover sandwich was gone and a quick chug emptied the beverage bottle.

Some would call that disgusting.

For me, it was just disturbing. Christmas music filled the air and twinkling holiday lights lit the buildings in the neighborhood where two men had just forged for their dinner.

So much for Ho, Ho, Ho and the holiday spirit.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

No, indeed I was experiencing the holiday spirit, the true meaning of Christmas.

"For unto you a child is born, for unto you a child is is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace ... Isaiah 9:6"

Christ came and died not only for me, but for everyone, no matter their circumstances. The same savior I worship is also the same savior of every homeless man and woman I encountered. The message he delivered of hope, joy and peace was intended for everyone. Salvation is for one and all, old and young, rich and poor.

This Christmas, I will focus on hope and more specifically, hope for my brothers and sisters everywhere to overcome life's trials and tribulations.

This Christmas, be thankful for what you've been given.

And please, share your blessings with others.



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