Leaning on the wall, I waited outside the grocery store close to the slum community we regularly visit. My job was to watch the backpacks and bags while the craft supplies and food for the day were being purchased. Facing towards the street, I half-heartedly watched the traffic go by. A man caught my attention. His body was covered in black soot. His hair matted and his clothing was in tatters. He awkwardly moved forward on one foot, hobbling along with a crutch under one arm. A straw bag was flung over his other shoulder, which more than likely contained all of his worldly possessions.
I had a nudge to respond, to give him either a drink or food that I had in my bag. I shamefully ignored the nudge. Wasn’t it my job to watch the bags? He didn’t approach me; I didn’t make a move. He looked towards me and I looked away, so he walked on down the street. After the supplies were purchased, we made our way to the tiny church in the middle of the community where we held English and vocational classes, where we held our feeding project. Those who stood outside their homes and along the path called out greetings.
Taking my place in the doorway of the church to welcome the children coming for class, I saw him. The man from the street was sitting in a plastic chair just a few feet away. His crutch was leaning on the wall behind him and his bag was at his feet. The humble pastor we partner with introduced me to this man by name, placing his hand on his shoulder even though small bugs were crawling on his coat. I shook his hand and he looked up at me with a toothless grin. The pastor went on to explain that the man often came by the church to sweep and clean in exchange for some food.
My daughter had taught her weekly baking class. Delicious smells swirled inside as pineapple cakes cooled on folding tables. The man’s eyes danced as he sat in his chair eating cake and holding his cold drink. He stayed for the meal. I felt ashamed. By his eyes and smile, though, I could tell he held no malice. Earlier that day I had missed an opportunity to respond to this man’s needs. I hope to do better next time.
When we see someone who is hurting or in need, we have a choice – retreat, even recoil, or respond? Looking into the eyes of others and recognizing their intrinsic value is imperative to our own humanity. If we take the time to see and acknowledge the other person’s worth, we are more able to move towards that person with understanding and compassion. In doing so, we help to create a more excellent world to live in.