Monday, May 15, 2017

Shoes Worn Through, No Socks and Blistered Feet

Noon on Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC that summer was both hot and crowded. It was not my first rodeo down there, but we were back as a family this time, to visit the tourist haunts, so that our children could soak up a bit of the history of our neighbor to the south. It was our tradition during that decade to take some major North American trips every couple of years. It meant saving up all our extra cash and any tax refunds that we might be fortunate enough to receive, but we saw it as an important part of our children’s education.

People seemed to be shoulder to shoulder that day. There were long lines for the Whitehouse, the Capital building and in some cases the National monuments and museums. It seemed like a never ending battle to decide what was worth either the waits or the maintaining of presence in the line-ups. Everything moved at a snail’s pace and concern for meals and heat exhaustion were preeminently at the forefront of our concern. But, we had stopped on our way west to give our children this advantage in their lives, that not everyone was blessed enough to experience, so we stayed the course.

Amidst the throng, as the noon hour progressed, people were partaking of the fares and wares of the local vendors. These summertime entrepreneurs likely did a great business, while charging excessive prices for everything. Still in all honesty they were fulfilling a need created by the numbers of unprepared people who swarmed like ants throughout the venues. Not everyone was there to visit museums. There were others who were there by necessity. It was a blatant shock to our senses and an eye-opener to our children, as they gawked open mouthed, at those “others” who made their way among the throng of tourists.

It can be a shock to both our sense of reality and our moral fiber to watch what unfolds before us by times. I will tell you of the harshest of these realities that made a difference in both my life and the lives of my children that day. What looked like a middle aged man was making his way up the avenue. He was a bit stooped; he wore a dirty felt brimmed hat, old shoes that didn’t fit properly and believe it or not a long dirty trench coat that covered his filthy apparel down to his shins. His pants were short, he had no socks and from all appearances he had holes in the miss-fitting shoes. His eyebrows were long and bushy; he wore a heavy long beard and the most distinguishing feature was his very long blackened curly fingernails. Those types of nails I saw again, in later years, in India on my various trips there.

The gentleman paid no attention to anyone at all. His task was simple and filled an immediate need; to find food, to scrounge every garbage can, picking up half-eaten burgers, uneaten fries and even finishing off any leftover drinks that had been discarded that day. If something was worth saving he shoved it into the pocket of his coat, to be eaten later. We had seen people on the freeways coming into New York, on our trip down to Pittsburgh some years before. They were common elements, quite often seen on our trips, to be found entering major cities in the east. They sold practical objects to people in cars, trucks, campers and big-rigs, as traffic came to a crawl and then halted in rush-hour tie-ups. It was how they earned their living, but his man in Washington ate out of garbage cans to stay alive; this was vastly different.

We could ask ourselves how this could be happening in this day and age. How could someone be so radically isolated from assistance, when this was taking place in the very capital of the most powerful country in the world? It may come as a shock to some to find out that power, affluence and economic prowess does not mean an automatic equality for all people, in or under a country’s, state’s, business’s or family’s care. While society, due to the nature of the egregious offence to its have-not elements, does its best to secure a path toward some practical fix, many still remain outside the parameters of any assistance at all. The political/economic machinery needed to run programs, along with the financial support, for both their inception and continued presence in needed areas, most often become sadly forgotten and oft times falls prey to diminished budgets. The argument for refocused efforts toward the forgotten in society, often goes unheeded, and a blind eye excuses both the deficiency and the mediocracy of the political conscience. Meanwhile billions of national budgetary dollars are spent with blatant excess on superficial pursuits, having little to do with primary health care, social support, education or even pivotal superstructure renewal.

In our local neighborhoods, here in middle-class affluent North America, it is hard to see and experience first-hand, a great deal of blatant oversight in social services and care for the forgotten and indigent of our country. Other avenues of assistance spring up to take up the slack through programs in our cities, towns, villages and religious institutions. Yet, there seems to remain a programmed overall desire to isolate ourselves from the hands-on practical participation in recovery for those in financial tribulation at varying degrees. It is easy to drop a few coins in the box, to write a cheque as the canvassers ring our door bell, but is there an actual conscious/proactive awareness of the plight of so many, defined as the forgotten, the have-nots, and the beggars who live on our streets?

The Bible reminds of Christ’s stories, (parables) of those who were the forgotten and rejected, and our need to be found “hands on” in our application of both concern and love for our fellow man. On Pennsylvania Avenue that day we sadly only watched, much to my sorrow and shame today. But the effect it had on me that day, soon moved me to volunteer in our local food banks, work as a volunteer with sheltered workshops and finally across the world to both teach, and give financial assistance, as much as I could, for several years.

The parable of the Good Samaritan epitomizes the various facets of how society interfaces with such problems. Can we imagine not helping someone in need? Yet, as hard as it may be to accept, many would rather pass to the other side of the highway and be on their way. To become involved means both responsibility and commitment. In the above mentioned parable, not only did the Good Samaritan take care of this broken man who was not of his religion, but he also left resources with the innkeeper to continue his care, along with the promise to cover any deficiencies in the cost not covered, on his return. (Reference: Luke 10:25-37)

Imagine if everyone cared that much. What a different world we would live in. Loving our neighbor as we would be loved should be our motto; value being placed on meaningful interaction on a regular basis. God has given us the resources as a gift from Him. We claim to earn our own living, but who has created all that is; even the resource from which the manufacture of goods and products come, by which we receive wage and compensation? I tend to view life as a gift in itself, and the joy of sharing has become foremost in my mind and my principle of practice.

The gentleman on Pennsylvania Avenue showed no shame in what he was doing that day. He was living on the edge. Had his life taken such a sharp turn that he was no longer able to maintain a standard lifestyle as we know it, or was he dislodged by indifference and just slowly became one of the forgotten? I am able to gain peace by walking along our beaches and shorelines while gazing out at the ocean. I lie down in a comfortable bed at night and eat regular meals; I have great health care and the blessing of a caring and loving family for support.  If everything suddenly changed for me, in the twinkling of an eye, someone would be there to pick me up, but I have seen thousands now, in my lifetime, who have no options; or very few to say the least. For the most part we here in North America are blessed beyond our true comprehension. We have much to give thanks for, even though there are days where heaviness of heart may bring the weight of distraction to our shoulders. Yet, still among us are the silent sufferers who surround us; the forgotten or the lost, striving to eke out a life daily, while hidden in our blindness and oversight!

If you are walking near the edge today, and that edge drives you to distraction, take opportunity to pause and look outward for a few moments. My grandmother told of a young woman who was driven by the desire to be beautiful. Every living moment she reflected on that possibility and it created not only personal dissatisfaction, but also animosity in both her peer group and especially within her family. One day her grandmother took her aside from the mirror where she was standing gazing at herself, and told her that if she began to concentrate on helping others in their need, she would be blessed with beauty. Years passed and she was able after a while, entering her teenage years, to finally defeat that constant bane to her existence. While working in a native village as a missionary a decade later, she was invited to visit a special reflection pool, which an older young lady she had been helping, often frequented as a matter of blessing. After walking for what seemed miles and sharing her experiences with the young girl, they finally arrived at their destination. The young missionary sat at the edge of the pool taking in the beauty of the surrounding vista. Without thinking, she glanced down and was surprised at the face staring back at her from the calm surface. Comely and attractive features had replaced what had been in her childhood a “plain-Jane” face that brought sadness to her young heart. She began to cry and murmured quietly; “What precious time I lost in longing for what came so naturally; as I was giving to others … God was quietly giving to me”.

It is not easy to forget about ourselves and focus more on others. It is hard to imagine both the context and quantity of hardship there is in the world, but it still remains. But as you stand amidst your own trials, there at the edge, what is happening may not be so terribly bad as it may then seem. It may just be personal, and what happens to us personally is most often felt in its extreme. Take time to pray about it. See if there is another outlook, another avenue, not to deflect or put off a resolution, but to give time to put life into perspective, beyond the immediate collapse of life as you know it. Perhaps that is what God was doing for me on that extremely hot summer day in Washington DC. I was soon given another chance to respond… after all there were lots of shoes worn through, no socks and blistered feet that confronted me in my years of travel that followed that first face to face experience with abject poverty. Maybe God has something for you to do… perhaps to sooth just one tired blistered foot (or heart) at a time. It can take you to the edge of a different class altogether... but it brings a deep satisfaction and a beautiful joy to your heart! 

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