I have always been a sucker for a good comeback story.
So the rise of Ted Williams, the homeless man with the amazing voice who was discovered by an employee of the Columbus Dispatch, fascinates me.
Here is this guy, with bushy hair and yellowed, crooked teeth, who gets discovered by some guy who bothered to give him the time of day. I mean, the fact that the Dispatch guy even read Williams' hand-scrawled, cardboard sign is a miracle.
How many times have I seen guys like him, standing on the New Circle Road exit ramps, holding tattered cardboard signs and trembling in the cold.
I'll be honest. I usually do all I can to avoid eye contact. And sometimes, I even smirk at their claim to be a veteran. Or their claim to be hungry or willing to work for a few dollars.
And even when sympathy and compassion tugs at my heart, I justify my stinginess. I say to myself, well, if he's a veteran, he should go to the Veterans Administration for help. Or, well, if he's hungry, he should go over to the Hope Center or the Catholic Action Center or one of these churches. Or, he can't be that poor if he's smoking cigarettes. Or, I don't have a job either, but it's called filling out an application and waiting for a call, bud.
And then there's the excuse that makes me feel best of all: The guy looks like a crack head. He'll just take my money and buy drugs or liquor. Or he may carjack me or snatch my purse.
But some newspaper guy actually stopped and helped someone just like that. Williams said on the Today Show that the Dispatch guy actually gave him $20 at one time. That act of kindness led to a whirlwind of good deeds. The guy has job offers from some of the top companies in the world.
And his life story is quite compelling. He came from a good family, had a good job, got hooked on drugs and lost everything. When he was discovered, he was recovering from drug abuse and was trying to get his life back on track.
Yet, I think, I wouldn't have given him a dime.
I can't help but think that there's a lesson I needed to learn about compassion -- and about looking beyond a person's appearance and condition and seeing what God sees – a work in progress.
God is our best example. Even in the Bible, some of the greatest men and women had humble beginnings before they were used by God. Like David, my favorite Bible character, the shepherd boy who killed a giant and became a king. Or like Moses, a stutterer, who became an advocate for his people. Or Paul, who murdered Christians, but later became one.
The list goes on.
The Bible also tells us that we should show compassion for even the least among us:
Hebrews 13:2 (KJV) – Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Watching Ted Williams on the YouTube video and on various news shows over the past few days, I still can't believe that voice comes from that guy. He's too short, too thin, too light or too dark, too … something to have a voice like that.
But aren't we all.
We're all unlikely candidates for the greatness God sees in us. We have all overcome something – poverty, wealth, broken families, unemployment, “the statistics”, our zip code, our criminal rap sheets – to be who we are or who we will become.
God sees beyond it all. Like a potter, he sees a work of art when others see a heap of clay. Like an architect, he sees a majestic edifice when others see a pile of bricks and a pile of dirt. Like a man or woman in love, he sees a supermodel when others see an ugly duckling. Like a mother, he sees a Gerber baby when others see our imperfections.
If only we could see the potential and not the present state. If only we could put on a pair of special glasses that allowed us to see the best in everyone.
Until then, we have folks like Ted Williams, to help us put our prejudice and judgemental attitudes in check.
Let me just say that the next homeless guy I see will have a blessed day.