"He's my brother," the young woman said, a slight tension in her voice. Then, rapidly, "Tell your friends he could be dangerous." I stared at her as my worldview rippled with a seismic shift.
This bright young teacher had always shown boundless compassion and patience and her humor was a saving grace. On this day we had been discussing a number of tough situations.It brought to mind a recent discussion at church about hospitality of the heart.
There is a man often seen by a number of my friends. Ragged, with a massive nest of snarled and knotted hair, this apparently homeless man has walked particular neighborhoods for years--- walked and walked.He is not someone who approaches, nor is he approached.
Recalling him in our discussion, a friend said, “I wonder about him, I have always wanted to help him. I wish I just knew his name.”
Now, a few days later, talking with this young teacher, I told her of this homeless man and the desire of my friends to reach out to him. She listened for a while and then she said quietly, “That’s my brother. His name is Edward".
Then she told me her story, and her brother’s story.It was full of sorrow and grace.Her brother’s problems began very early in life and painfully impacted her family life.Much had been tried; much had been lost over the years.Yet here she sat.Smiling, dedicated, giving back.
How often do you see those lonely figures, standing at intersections with cardboard signs and maybe a puppy?Walking along the highway with a shopping cart overflowing with odds and ends?I remember a well-spoken man who knocked on my door, looking for tree work. We talked for a while, and looking down for a moment I noticed his shoes were held together with duct tape. I felt confused.
I remember a thin, bleary-eyed woman who approached me several times in the parking lot of my office building, with a different variation each time of how she was just traveling through and was stranded.She taught me something I have never forgotten.One day, as she started her story, I handed her some money, cut her off and said, “Please stop.I have heard all this before; it’s not true, get a better story.”She just looked at me.I felt overwhelmed with shame as I looked at my image in her eyes.
Bishop Anthony M. Pilla wrote in the 60’s that “the moral measure ofour society is how we treat the least among us.”Why did I ever think it was my money, to dole out to those I thought would use it “wisely”?Who was I to think that it was more shameful to be “conned” into giving a bit of money than to withhold my abundance?
But in learning from encounters with people seemingly so different from me who turned out to be mirrors and angels and heart-openers---in all of that I had not thought of their relatives. The parents with confusion and broken hearts, the siblings whose childhoods were disrupted, the spouses and children left with a mystery and deep grief.
Broken connections, untold stories.
Who do you meet in the course of a day?What do you know of whom they love and what their dreams are?What might you learn from them?What parts of you do they call forth?
That next Sunday I gathered again with my friends. "His name is Edward," I said. "I work with his sister. Let me tell you his story."