I won’t look too hard into your world if you just leave mine alone. I will ignore your rags, your empty gaze and your bags, if you ignore me as I walk by. Let’s cooperate and this world will continue to turn on its unbalanced axis as we chase our meaningless desires. Meaningless, not because we’re devoid of dreams, but because they won’t make sense to each other. For you, because you just want to survive. For me, because I just want my towers.
I walked by her every morning as I headed to the train station. She was probably in her mid-forties, the sign ‘money for food’ at her feet, written on a piece of cardboard. Just one of the many faceless homeless that littered the sidewalk but she caught my attention. It was her gaze. She never once looked up, as though ashamed that she needed to sit there, begging for survival, while I never once stopped to hand her some loose change, ashamed that I didn’t help.
A pathetic reaction from my apathetic world.
‘Don’t give,’ a friend whispered to me as we walked by an Asian woman at the intersection. The lady had gloves on her hand and was asking everyone for coins.
‘But… why?’ I asked, hurrying after her in the winter cold.
‘I’ve heard stories about those people,’ she answered. ‘It may be a ploy. You stop to help and they stick a needle into you. I mean, why is she wearing gloves?’
Why indeed. I had no idea. She certainly didn’t look like a person in want. Her gaze, unlike the other woman, was focused and determined.
‘If she’s a con artist of some sort, then she’s ruining it for the real homeless who need help,’ I said.
‘Well, they’re everywhere. What can we do to help? What if they take our money to buy another fix?’ my companion answered. ‘We’d then be harming them, not helping.’
When did we become a society that feared so much?
‘Take a seat luv,’ he shouted, giving me a toothless grin.
‘Umm… sure.’ I settled myself precariously beside him. I have to admit, I was a little intimidated. He reeked of oil and dirt, his shoes worn out and his clothes a vague blend of browns and dirty blues. I couldn’t tell when a tattered coat ended and his many scarves began.
‘Where are you getting off?’ he asked. Warnings about never disclosing your destination came to me but I thought, what the heck, the train was crowded.
‘I’m getting off at Central,’ I answered.
‘Well then, you sit inside, I’ll move out because I’m getting off earlier,’ he answered, standing up immediately.
‘Oh no… that’s alright…’ I began to answer. I didn’t want to be enclosed in a tight space with him blocking my only exit but he’d already stood up. Again, I meekly got up and moved.
‘So, tell me, why are you here?’ He asked, leaning in close.
I glanced at my companion but she was on the phone.
‘I’m here for a conference,’ I started.
‘That’s good, that’s good. Learning eh? That’s wise yeah? Keep them wheels turning in the mind. So this is a church?’ he asked.
‘Yeah,’ I replied.
‘Me, I don’t believe in God, and I’ll tell you why.’ He began expounding on scientific discoveries and his many reasons why God didn’t exist. ‘I mean, you look and see all them people in pain and hurting and you tell me, if there’s a God, why ain’t He doing something hey?’
Before I could answer, he stood up.
‘That’s me stop luv. You think about that. You think about God. You tell me, does He really exist?’ and he disappeared.
I looked up at a complete stranger watching us and smiled.
‘You believe in God?’ I asked him.
‘Yeah,’ he replied. ‘I do. But I don’t think that chap wanted to hear that.’
Maybe it’s not hearing. Maybe… it’s about being bold to get close enough to listen to the stories, to reach out and touch a life. These people I met are part of a statistic. But they were more than just numbers. They were lives that were hurting. They were the ignored.
‘I was punching in the numbers at the ATM machine
I could see in the reflection, a face staring back at me
I was speeding off the subway, through the stations of the cross
Every eye looking every other way, counting down till the pain will stop
At the moment of surrender, of vision over visibility
I did not notice the passers by, and they did not notice me…’
– U2 ‘Moment of Surrender’
I came back from Sydney with more than bags of shopping and notes from workshops. I came back with a firm resolution that I will be the hands and feet of Love. I’d been consumed with work and the many things which I want to do, not realising that living in my little world of aspirations, I’d ignored the groans of humanity – the quiet, unbidden cries of people who need a touch.
I came back knowing that I want to do something.
I came back with a passion to help others live, not merely survive.
I’ve come back ready for change.