Last week I popped into a gas station in the early morning hours. In front of me stood a frail elderly man. My bag, combined with the clothing & shoes on my body, must have outweighed him. In either hand he carried two tall beers coated in brown paper sacks. Mind you, it is hardly daylight outside as the sun begins to remind us of the day ahead of us. The old man humbly never made eye contact with myself or the cashier. The cashier made every attempt to pay no mind to what the man was purchasing, I watched those around me, they avoided letting this man’s reality invade their own. No one wants to pay mind to the sadness around them, it might influence their own mood after all & what a tragedy that would be. I can’t say what this man has experienced that influenced his early morning purchase. My imagination haunts me with thoughts of bitterness between he and his children. Exile from a family. Maybe he is the only survivor. Anyhow, loneliness screams my name on his behalf.
I am that man.
Last year, almost down to the day, I gave my Christmas tree, decorations, & lights to a single mother in my (then) church community who had put out a word that she didn’t have anything to make Christmas happen for her two children. I was happy to be a part of making that happen for her & her children. I would do it one thousand times over. The heartbreak I experienced, knowing what it feels like to want something for your children & not be able to provide, it is all-consuming. I wanted smiles & warmth for this family on Christmas Day. Even if just for a day.
I am that mother. That woman.
Present day, I am writing this & across from me sits a man, mid forties, extravagantly dressed, pitching a multi level marketing scheme to a younger boy who is hanging on to every word of something being very cleverly sold to him. “I put my life savings into this, & it’s all good.” He tells the boy. “I was tired of living a regular life,” he goes on. I’m sick for the boy. His whole future is wide open & I want to interrupt this heinous conversation to save him. I’ve been there. I have heard the pitch that it’s all about me, my daughter, my future, & my relationships. I know all too well the selling point that says there is intimacy & investment in me at the helm for their pursuit of me in this once in a lifetime “opportunity”. Guess who wasn’t around once I declined to sell my soul and squander my savings. He doesn’t know better. I hope he will choose well.
I am that boy.
A couple of weeks back I stepped out for lunch in the city in the middle of a workday. Sitting at a stoplight, to my left stood a homeless man. In his hands, a sign “God bless you for helping.” Most won’t break their forward gaze to see him. Most won’t give. The man had a broken arm. My heart was in complete chaos. If I ever have cash I give it, no questions asked, this day was not that day. I began to consider the male condition. Pride. I know many men who have taken advantage of women financially rather than take a lesser job for a temporary period of time. How can this man be standing here asking strangers for money & help? He’s hurt. He’s broken physically. He is not seen by the majority of those passing through. I want security for him.
I am that man.
This week is thanksgiving, & a significant one for me. This holiday season I am challenged with looking at where I was last year and where I am now. Last year we belonged to a large community of people, people who called my daughter & I family. This year, we are removed from that community. No more family. No more parties. No more events. No more invites. Just the quiet reminder of everything that has gone, a silence that can be deafening.
Why do I identify with each person’s story? I am the old man in the gas station because I can relate to pursuing things, anything, that may dull the impact of my reality. I am the mother & woman because I have known the ache to fight for a different reality for my child. I am the boy because I have been naive & influenced by people with ulterior motives. I am the homeless man because I have stood alone, exposed, with nothing. I do not mean to dilute their realities. I have a fortunate life, free from many of the things I witness that bring my heart into an empathetic state. For that, I am thankful.
My sister shared a thought with me yesterday, “As if there is a cure for the human condition.”
As I thought on what she shared with me, I considered how many times people tried to sell me on an idea of a cure for our humanity. We can’t escape the realities around us. Fear, poverty, manipulation, sickness, addiction… it all exists. There is no cure for being human & it is a gift to be able to experience human emotions in response to things happening in our sphere.
Be someone else this holiday season. Don’t only be you. Be that man. Be that woman. Be that boy or girl. Be someone who can step into someone else’s reality. Lend a hand. Take notice. Be present. Someone needs you.
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