Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Number 26

It strikes me now, reflecting back, how routine, simple moments can have lasting impact if you live life with your eyes wide open. A few weeks ago, out on a simple lunchtime errand, I took a drive to my neighborhood drug store. As I was traveling down a busy road, cars flying by me in a panic to get to and from lunch destinations, I turned on my left blinker to enter the drug store parking lot- and there I saw him. He wasn’t famous. He wasn’t an old friend. He wasn’t someone I even knew. But, I saw him nonetheless. He stood on the corner under the traffic light, rain pouring down on his back, a sign clenched between his soaked hands and dripping wet with these words scribbled in permanent marker- “homeless, please help.” As I watched this man walk back and forth in the storm, anxiously looking into the eyes of passersby, it was as if I could feel his dignity vanishing with each step. Water splashing up on the curb, lightning flashing in the distance, nothing seemed to faze him; he was robotic. Despite my fixation on him, something else caught my attention in those moments. I began counting all of the cars that passed him by. One by one they flew, not even taking a second glance. Most of them were preoccupied on their cell phones, distracted by the rain, or realistically just looking for a reason not to notice the man. I could only count the cars that came at me, the ones I was facing from my intersection, but in a matter of seconds I counted twenty-six cars. If I were able to count the ones going the other direction, I’m certain that number would have more than doubled. Twenty-six, I was completely paralyzed with that number. Realistically, thousands of cars pass him by in a single afternoon and statistically, maybe a few gave him any assistance and probably even less took the liberty to smile or say hello.

Instead of focusing on the contempt and sadness I felt at how easy it is for us to neglect the people we see in need, I focused instead on him. What it must feel like to stand wet and cold in the rain, waiting and hoping to earn what little money you can. How with every car that passes by, every nervous glance of pedestrians and drivers, it must crush your resolve and deplete your strength. I wondered what it was like to be hungry, really and truly hungry, and be uncertain of when that feeling would come to an end. More than the physical needs, I wondered what it must be like to wish that people would look at you, actually just look at you. Even more so, how it must ache to long for a conversation, which must be painful to realize comes rarely, and even then typically comes wrapped in expectation- because often people don’t know how to communicate, much less love, without expectation of a certain reciprocation. A horn blew behind me and with a startled jump I eased my car into the drug store parking lot, leaving behind the man who had me captured. My heart ached for him.

What was I to do with this moment I was given? I look at everything as an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to grow and be more like Christ. So, what was it God? What I know is the man I saw that day is Gods son and he matters as much to God as me or anyone else. And despite our prideful ability to measure need out of our own limited mind, it is just as important to make sure my new friend on the corner has food, has assistance, in the same way I make sure I do. My friend has the same reason to expect human connection and love the way I do. The only difference between him and I is that he has grown accustomed to being ignored. And what I learned that day is… It’s not ok to expect to be ignored. No fancy words, no vicious rhetoric, it’s just not ok.

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