We went a little early and bought our tickets, walked down to a delightful little ice cream place called Sweet Action and did some seriously excellent people-watching. We were hit up for change a few times from some people on the street, not atypical for that part of town, but we were having an enjoyable time, overall. It was a perfect night, and there's nothing like an ice cream cone and a good movie, if you ask me. There was one guy, I dubbed him the Mumbler, because when he asked us for money I couldn't hardly decipher what he said. The Mumbler asked us once on the way to Sweet Action, and we walked right by - did the pretty typical if-we-just-keep-talking-maybe-he'll-think-we-magically-don't-see-or-hear-him routine. He walked down in front of Sweet Action while we sat there, and I watched him mumble at a few more people. On our way back to the theater, the Mumbler was, yet again, in our direct path.
I don't know if it was that we ignored him twice, or that I had watched countless other people ignore him too, or what it was about the Mumbler that hit me so hard as we walked into the theater to see our movie. I don't know if it was the sadness in his voice as he asked us for our help. I don't know if it was the fact that he wasn't much older than me, or that he looked like someone I could have met at church or school or in a Starbucks. I don't know what it was, exactly.
And I don't quite know what the feeling was - a combination, I think, of guilt, definitely, and sadness and grief and shame and sorrow. No sooner had we passed him without looking or acknowledging did I feel an unbearable sadness at what I had just done. I had walked by a person, desperately in need (though, I admit, I don't know of what) and I pretended like he didn't exist. Not only did I not help, but I didn't speak to him, smile at him, look at him, acknowledge his presence, acknowledge his need. I was, perhaps, a little shocked at how easily I had dismissed another human being. For the next 20 minutes before the lights dimmed and the previews began, I obsessed at my friend over what we could have done. I didn't honestly know. I didn't know what I could have said or done to help or make it better. I still don't, really. But I knew in the very core of myself that what I had done was wrong. It was kind of callous and sort of unbelievable, if you think about it.
I can't imagine what life would be like if people quite literally walked past me as though I did not exist. I can't begin to put myself in his shoes, I'll be the first to admit that. I'm not trying to make some ridiculous connection between the two of us and our situations. But I can't imagine, no matter how hard I try, if I stood on the street, asking, begging for help (again, whatever that looked like, no matter how right or wrong I was) and I was ignored. Not yelled at, told I was bad or the scum of the earth or whatever, but ignored. As though I didn't exist.
Drama factor in this post = potentially a little high. But sometimes life calls for drama. Tomorrow I will go and I will put on my most compassionate face and I will serve food and I will love those people. I will, and I will mean it, too. But what does it matter if I don't offer those I meet in my every day life with the same regard? What does it matter that I spent Sunday serving food to people if on Saturday I pretended like those same people were practically lepers? I know that a great deal of my reaction was fear-based, which is occasionally fair, but in this particular situation there wasn't anything to fear, per say. Are we supposed to put on our Christian volunteering face once a week or whatever and then turn it back off when we walk down Broadway? I don't recall there being a part of the Bible that said to love people - but only if it was safe. Contained. There was nothing safe or contained about Jesus. And if the Mumbler showed up at the Well tomorrow, and he caught me in that hypocrisy, I can't put into words how ashamed I'd be.
I know there is need for a certain degree of caution (Mom... I know you're about to have a panic attack) and I'm not going to go crazy and sleep on the streets or anything. I'm definitely not going to start handing out money, because I think at the core of "can you help" is not, in fact, a request for funds. There are things that I can do differently. What if I had asked the Mumbler his name? What if I had stopped to hear his story? What if I had invited him to eat spaghetti and brownies the very next day?
A guy I met at Seminary my first semester, Zac, has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Read his blog: you will be blessed. He posted a video on there the other day of a letter that he had written to his 17-yr-old self, from his current perspective - which involves the tragic (from my perspective) reality that he may not have much longer to live. His words came to mind as I got home tonight. (Admittedly, this quote is a little choppy, but it's all his words.)
"Start right now. You must break your heart for the people around you. You must love them. You must be passionate about them. 1 John 4 says, 'Beloved, let us love one another. For love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.' You claim to love God. A very real, tangible way to love God is to show that love to other people. You're going to meet many, many people. Love them, and show them the way to Jesus. Desperately try to leave each and every person you meet better off than when you first met them. Desperately pursue God. Desperately pursue the people around you, and love them. Our time is short, my friend. Let's get to work."