March Book Review: Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard, SB Press, Chapel Hill, NC, 2008.
From the back cover:
Is the American Dream still alive or has it, in fact, been drowned out by a clashing of the classes? Is the upper class destined to rule forever while the lower classes are forced to live in the same cyclical misery?
Millions of Americans fight for the answers to these questions every day, and here, in Scratch Beginnings, one man makes the attempt at discovering the answers for himself. Carrying only a sleeping bag, the clothes on his back, and $25 cash, and restricted from using previous contacts or his education, Adam Shepard sets out for a randomly selected city with one goal on his mind: work his way out of the realities of homelessness and into a life that will offer him the opportunity for success.The back cover pretty well sums it up. I found it an interesting read. I don't want to give any spoilers, but it did raise some question. If I found myself broke and homeless, would I handle it as a challenge or would I give in to inevitability? Does age make a difference? Is this easier for someone who is young and healthy but inexperienced, or would it be easier for someone a little older and wiser in the ways of the world.
This book gives names and faces to the poor, mainly men, since it is written by a man who stayed in a men's homeless shelter for a time. My church has asked us to reach out and help refugees, and this book helped me see a clearer picture of the challenges and opportunities they face--in addition to a language barrier that the author does not have. They are no longer the people in masses, but individuals who need help, and need to be seen as individuals.
One day I was grabbing fresh foods for lunch, and felt inspired to pick up a beautiful peach. I didn't want the peach. I like peaches but I had plenty of food. Still, I felt so drawn to that peach that I bought it anyway, tucking it carefully into my school backpack.
A few hours later, between classes, I saw a wheel-chair bound homeless man on the street corner, begging. I approached him and offered a smile, saying "I can't give you money, but I have a nice peach if you would like it." His face lit up as I handed him the peach, and after I crossed the street I looked back to see him eating the peach with a look of pleasure on his face.
I truly believe that there were two things involved here: God saw the man and knew how much he would enjoy that perfect peach. Also, the man enjoyed having someone look at his face and speak directly to him while sharing. They are human, you know, real people.
Yes, as the book makes clear, some homeless prefer to stay that way, some are addicted to various drugs, some beggars may not even be homeless. But others are trying their best to claw their way out, working pathetic day jobs to try to make--and save--a buck. Some come from terrible backgrounds and are doing their best to overcome it. I doubt many are like the author, deliberately choosing homelessness, whether for an experiment or otherwise. I learned much from him as he learned from them.
I am grateful that I have always had a home, enough to eat, and people around me who love and care, people in church and people in my family who stay in touch. I cannot imagine the loneliness of the way of life that some people have in this world.