August 11, 2019
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?
Dear Jesus, We are your instruments. Help us to play the music of compassion, love, understanding and perseverance. Remind us often that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters it is the same as doing it for you. Amen
One Sunday last October, I was driving home from church. I was almost home, when my eye caught a figure hunched over an aluminum walker in the parking lot of a liquor store. It was a small person in a dark jacket with the hood up, wearing a backpack. They were limping away from the liquor store, but not towards a car. As I drove by, I thought; “Where are they going? The only houses in the area are up in my community and that is a long walk for someone with one of those old-style aluminum walkers”. It looked like a woman and I felt that she wasn’t safe out there. So, I did a U turn and then another one to get back where she was. Turned out she was a he, a small older man named Daniel. I asked if I could give him a ride somewhere. He said, I don’t know. I don’t know where to go. I came here in a taxi to see about an apartment, but my appointment isn’t until 2 pm and I don’t know where to go to wait. Is there a coffee shop around here? The closest places were a Subway and a pit beef place, but he didn’t seem interested in either one of those. I told him there was a Royal Farms, but it would be a long walk for him and I suggested that he let me run him down there, he could get his coffee and they had seats, so he could wait there and I would come back at 2 pm for his appointment. He wasn’t sure because he didn’t know if he could trust me to bring him back. After I insisted I would get him back in time, he agreed; so I got out and put his walker behind the seat and he sat in the car. It would be about an hour and a half, but Daniel said that would be fine, so I dropped him off, good deed done, right? In the two minutes it took me to drive to my house, it occurred to me that I had been wrong. THIS Royal Farms didn’t have seating-that was the one over on 43. I mulled over what to do. I mean, I had given him a ride, was I obligated to do more? Doing more would mean bringing him to the house. Was it safe? Should I? I thought would Jesus hesitate. Taking a deep breath, I got back in the car and headed for the Royal Farms store. I found Daniel limping towards the door, a bag in one hand pushing the walker and a coffee cup hanging from his mouth the lip gripped in his teeth. He was headed outside, into the chilly day with no place to eat his lunch. At that point, I was drowning in feelings of guilt. I grabbed the cup and apologized for providing him with the wrong details about the seating. I offered to take him home to wait for his appointment. He asked if I was sure and indicated how much he would appreciate it. As we approached the house he says, “You’re not a serial killer, are you?” In shock, I kind of laughed and said, “no, are you?” We had each been contemplating how safe this interaction was going to be. Once inside he sat down to eat his hot dog and drink his coffee. I offered him some fruit or vegetables or chips to go with it, but he said if he eats too much, it makes his stomach ache. He did accept a cookie later. After he ate, we watched the football game. It was Baltimore’s bye week, so it didn’t really matter who won, but Daniel wanted me to pick a team and then he rooted for the other one. He enjoyed a competitive atmosphere. During his stay he shared some of his story. He had worked construction and was injured. He still limped some and that’s why he used the walker. He and his girlfriend shared an apartment, but when he couldn’t work, there wasn’t enough money to pay the rent. Then his girlfriend got sick and had to go to a nursing home. He visits her when he can. After losing their apartment, he found his way to the Eastern Resource Center in Rosedale, which has shelter facilities. He could only spend 90 days at the shelter, so he was looking for an apartment. He saw this one advertised and called about it. He carefully kept track of the clock, so we could go back over there when it was time. He had the address on Eastern Ave. but I had no idea where there were apartments over there. However, I said we would go look into it. We couldn’t find the exact number, so I suggested that he go into the liquor store and ask about it. Come to find out, behind the store, there is a building. In it and underneath the store on the ground floor, there are apartments. I surmised they are for single men, as a couple of guys were going in and out of those 2 areas. The manager shows Daniel the apartment. Daniel is planning on getting assistance for the rent and he brings out some papers, which he thinks the landlord should fill out. Come to find out he has to fill them out, including the apartment’s address and send them in. Daniel is disappointed that he won’t be able to get the apartment in the next couple of days because he hates the shelter.
I asked him where I should take him? He had come there in a taxi. He wanted to know if I could drive him to Middlesex Shopping Center and offered to pay me, which I refused, He wanted to go to the grocery and then he was going to the library. Evidently, he often went to the library. As I told him good-bye and wished him luck, I suggested if he needed help filling out the papers, the librarians could do that.
I think of Daniel on occasion. I think of how I could have done a better job assisting him. I wonder if I should have helped him with the papers. Should I have given him some food to take with him? Should I have offered my phone number? I decided that if God provided another opportunity to help someone, I would try to do a better job. Well, I guess God was listening to me because a little more than a month later, the email came about Manuel. That became a six month opportunity and involved all of us. It was wonderful to help a young man go from detention to a job, an apartment and independence.
Reflecting on my meeting with Daniel, I think of what I learned. His situation made it all too clear how close we all are to living on the streets. He had a job and a home. Apparently, there was not good insurance nor a family support system. Then his partner’s illness was the straw that broke the camel’s back!
I think of the inadequate resources for people in need. The shelter was only an option for 90 days. Don’t you imagine there are a lot of people in shelters, whose problems can’t be reasonably resolved in 90 days? He saw the shelter as a place to be avoided. He wouldn’t show up there until it was time for bed. Either no one there offered to help him find a place to live or assist with his papers or he didn’t feel comfortable asking.
I think of how we are all alike, regardless of the situation—You’re not a serial killer are you? We share fears, needs, wants, whoever we are. He told me when he left the house, that I must be careful about whom I offer to help. Human concern crosses all boundaries.
I think about what we see and don’t see. What drew my attention to Daniel in the first place? If it had been a burly obviously male figure, would my reaction have been the same? We tend to avoid situations that break cultural and personal barriers. If it hadn’t been a bye week and I was concentrating on getting home to watch the Ravens, would I have seen and responded in the same way? I like to think that God was doing a little intervention to give Daniel some help that day. According to Rev. Gregory Ellison of Emory University, ‘to gaze at someone for longer than three seconds is to invite people to behold the other as in the image of God, to behold another human being.” Three seconds was about all that initial glimpse of Daniel was. But it was enough for me to see him as in the image of God and make a difference for him that day.,
When I consider the larger implications of this situation, I look to our scriptures for today, especially those from Isaiah. We are commanded to learn to do right, not only in our personal lives, but in our civic lives. Woe to those who make unjust laws, oppressive decrees or executive orders and withhold justice from the oppressed. Thousands of years ago this demand was made. For thousands of years, those in control have ignored that charity should supersede greed. And the masses have failed to demand better. Oppression means packing children into cement block buildings without enough food and water, without soap, clean clothing, toothbrushes. Oppression means railroading people to jail, and there is even environmental oppression when one takes National Park money for ego-building ceremony. And we have a new oppression that affects all of us; it’s oppression when we fear to go to the Walmart, food festival, concert or any public area because assault rifles are so readily available and making a difference may mean sacrificing your life to save another.
So, pretty frustrating huh, maybe even hopeless? So many problems, so much waste, such violence. What is a caring person to do?
Gandalf, the wizard in Lord of the Rings had a suggestion; “Simple acts of kindness and love keep the darkness at bay.”
A retired guy in New England makes a difference. He gives free rides to college kids who can’t afford to get home for holidays and vacations.
A 13 year old boy who loves to bake, sells cupcakes. For every cupcake he sells, he makes one and gives it away to shelters, nursing homes, soup kitchens. He is changing lives one cupcake at a time.
A millionaire in California read about a homeless couple in the San Francisco area, who had health issues, but maintained an upbeat spirit. He offered them the mother-in-law suite on his estate. Even when uncharitable neighbors called the police because there were strange people on the porch next door, the millionaire made a difference to Greg and Marie. His comment was
“There was no decision, there was no thought, there was no judgement. I was just like ‘ this is done,'” “I didn’t vet them. These are human beings and they’re not serial killers. They want to get in out of the weather. They want to be warm. They want a roof over their heads.
What is a caring person to do? You pick up the starfish nearest to your foot and throw it back in the ocean. Make a difference to that one!
Mother of us all, help us to be as perceptive as the young boy at the beach; to know that we can make a difference one person at a time. Guide us to overcome what we fear. We shouldn’t be afraid of the things we don’t understand. We should be drawn to them. Your strength and love can be our support as we gain a better sense of belonging to humanity. Amen