The madness of love
is a blessed fate;
and if we understood this
we would seek no other:
it brings into unity
what was divided,
and this is the truth:
bitterness it makes sweet,
it makes the stranger a neighbour,
and what was lowly it raises on high.
~ Hadewijch of Antwerp, thirteenth-century poet and mystic.
While stopped at traffic lights on my way home from yoga last week, I noticed a man wringing out his t-shirt and socks, and hanging them over a roadside railing to dry. Judging by the state of his clothes my guess is that this man was homeless and had just washed his clothes in the San Diego River (which by the way is not the cleanest river i’ve ever seen). My first thought as I watched him dry his clothes was ‘I should go and buy that guy a new t-shirt and a pair of socks,’ but then I hesitated. Running through my head were thoughts like: I’m dripping with sweat and I’ll disturb people as I shop in Target… What if he’s not homeless and he gets offended by my assuming he is… He might not be here by the time I get back from going to the shops… I’ve got to get home and make lunch…
And so I drove on by and didn’t bother to stop and help a man who clearly looked like he was in need.
Have you found yourself in a similar situation?
Why don’t we stop? Why don’t we let our lives be interrupted?
For a life worth living is a life interrupted by indelible moments with others. There are numerous examples of people willing to let life be interrupted, giving their time and their resources for the sake of others: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sir Nicholas Winton, Mother Teresa, Shane Claiborne, Jesus of Nazareth.
Now our interruptions don’t have to be as radical as it was for these people. We could start with simply stopping to buy a homeless guy a new pair of socks, or being late for class because you’re making yourself available for a friend who needs to talk. It could be missing the bus to help an elderly lady get her groceries into her car, or opening your home to someone who needs a place to stay while they get back on their feet. Whatever it is, big or small, we were not created to live life in isolation from one another, rather we were created to share life with the people around us and be a blessing to them. Real joy is found in being willing to let our lives be interrupted and shared with others, especially when they are strangers who cannot return the favour.
In the situation above I could say that fear for my safety stopped me from giving to that homeless guy, but I know its just an excuse because there were plenty of people driving past so our interaction would have been public. Not wishing to disturb shoppers around me because I was sweaty is also not an excuse, nor did I have anything to do that day other than make my lunch because I am on summer break. Truthfully I have no valid reason for why I didn’t let my life be interrupted for half an hour to buy that guy some new clothes, and I regret it. I’ve thought of that guy everyday since I saw him. I wish I’d let my life be interrupted in that moment. But while I can’t change the decision I made in that moment I can learn from it, and so I am going to endeavour to stop for the people around me from now on, to let life be interrupted so that I can share indelible moments with others.
Will you join me?