Pity may cry, but still walks away…
I’m at the grocery store, in the fruit aisle. Returning a rotten pineapple.
Behind me, I hear a voice, and turn. His face is pained, frightened like a child’s might be, who’s lost their way. His face a dirty smear, clothes disheveled, hands trembling.
“I’ve been homeless for 10 days, no bed, no shower, no toilet. It’s been tough…”
He lowers his chin, and I see tears spilling onto his cheeks. I place my hand on his shoulder.
“I have a tumor in my stomach, (he lifts his shirt to show me a cantaloupe size bulge in his abdomen), and the doctors give me three months to live.”
I ask, “What’s your name?”
“What can I do to help?”
He tells me about a woman he knows who gives boarding at $40 a week. As I dig into my wallet, I tell him to go shopping, bring back whatever he needs. We meet back up, and he is carrying a gallon of milk.
“That’s it? Nothing else?”
We’re at the freezer section, so he opens a door and pulls out a half-gallon of ice cream. We walk together to the express lane. His odor is palpable, his appearance out of place. From the stares around me, others seem curious, seem to stop to see what might happen next. The clerk scans and bags my items, but leaves the milk and ice cream.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” as I push them forward, “these are my friends, and we’re together.”
We stand outside in a hot muggy evening, and I ask him about his faith, if he is sure of his salvation. Tears, again.
“That’s been the dearest part of this ordeal,” he says. “God is everywhere I go, providing my needs.”
We pray together, and then he stoops down and picks up an old bicycle, which he said he found that morning on a trash heap. It is rusted, crooked, and has a flat back tire. I stand, mouth agape, embarrassed to be honest, as he sits down, hangs his two bags on the handle bars, points the tire forward and starts to peddle. His knees jut out, because the bike is disproportionate to his size.
On the way home, I couldn’t get the image of DeJadis, on that rickety bike, out of my mind. Maybe I should have offered him a ride. Yet, I reminded myself, that I had emptied my wallet. Yet, before long, my mood soured. What had I really done? In that moment God decided to break into the dialogue I was having with myself. ‘You paid him off, that’s what,’ He said. “You dug into your wallet to send him away.”
He was right. The enormity of DiJadis’ issues, and the fragile nature of our family at the time, caused me to cave into fear.
When I got home I put the groceries on the counter, and told Ginnette I needed to go out again. I drove north to find him. The next hour, I cruised every street in that part of town, growing more frantic to find DiJadis, to finish what I hadn’t done, in the name of Jesus. But he was nowhere. I was left with a memory of a man whose life in Christ brought new meaning to God providing daily bread. The cancer growing in his body would soon take him home, but what had I done to ease that journey? I knew I hadn’t done enough, hadn’t cared to, was too scared to, whatever the reason, it was a stunning blow to my idea of what it means to be brave in the lives of others. Did I love my neighbor, Dijadis? No, I got off pretty cheap.
I pitied him, and that is all.
The antidote for the disease of cowardry, is a proper definition of love. It’s not cheap sentiment, this love thing. It’s not the convenient dollar store version I lived out for DiJadis, but the kind that Jesus showed up to demonstrate. I wonder if, when the earth shook, and grown men wept, and wild eyed women swooned, if God wasn’t taking the world by the scruff, and trying to shake some sense into us all by saying, ‘look closely, this love does more than pity; look closer, my son on the cross didn’t walk away.
DiJadis, by now you’ve made it home, not on a shaky bicycle, but escorted by angels, and welcomed by The King! Home! Thank you for your trembling hand that touched my arm, the briefest of encounters. It taught me how brave a man can be, who summons strength to invite a frightened other into love.