“We share the world with others”
~ Brian McLaren ~
I’ve been haunted by Tara Smith’s moving, beautifully written post since I read it on Sunday. Tara spoke eloquently about the importance of compassion, empathy, and recognizing our “fellow human being(s).”
These words flew into my thoughts as I drove home this afternoon. Winter has just started to loosen its grip in my corner of Connecticut, and a cold rain was falling when I passed him. I have no idea who he is, and yet he is a fixture of my commute. I don’t see him every day. Sometimes I pass him in the morning; sometimes it’s afternoon. He walks with a slight limp and it’s impossible to guess his age. He could be 40 or 60.
Now in many places around the world, this gentleman would be just another busy person on his way to or from work. But in this case, he stands out. There are no other people walking on this road; there are no sidewalks, for that matter. It’s rumored, though, that there’s a small settlement of homeless people not far from where I usually see him. Does he live there? To assume he’s fallen on hard times seems to judge him unfairly.
And yet. What is this man’s story? He usually has a plastic grocery bag with him. His hair is always neatly combed and he’s clean-shaven. A small smile gives him a cheerful air. But why does he trudge back and forth on this busy road in all kinds of weather? I marvel at his fortitude at the same time I’m ashamed of myself for making an assumption about someone I know nothing about.
So I make another. This man, for whatever reason, walks each day, probably to the bus stop that’s at least half a mile from the spot where I saw him today. I’ve seen him in the morning and in the evening, coming and going, so he probably has a job that he cares about.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if I ever know the particulars of his story. What matters is that when I see him, I look at him. I recognize him as a fellow human being who has a story, a fellow human being who deserves my compassion.