Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I Want to See

Yesterday as I was going up the escalator out of Union Station, where my daily commuter train arrives, my path crossed with a man I haven't seen in at least a year.  His name is James.  He has the darkest black skin I have ever seen.  He is rail thin, has a round nose, and gray, skin-short hair that is usually covered by a hat.  He has giant, watery, dark-brown eyes.  He is homeless and a heroin addict.  I used to talk to him frequently and when we talked about his hunger and need for shelter and warmth, I felt God between us.  The last time I saw him, I asked him how he was and he wrote me a note in shaky hand-writing, telling me he had fallen and hit his head, resulting in brain damage and brain surgery.  He pulled up his hat, revealing a long, healing scar.  He could no longer talk.  Yesterday, as we passed each other, me on the rising escalator, him walking down the stairs, our eyes locked and I turned my body as the escalator continued up to keep eye contact.  I said hello to him, asking him how he was, over the rush-hour sounds.  He just nodded and stared at me without a voice, all of his pain and need and ache carried in his watery eyes.  There was no smile.  

As I kept walking to the office, James' eyes haunted me.  They reminded me of something or someone, but I couldn't quite place what it was.  Something inside me was disturbed too.  Was it that he had no voice in a world of sounds?  Was it just that I was filled with compassion for this man whose one and only life is this way?  Was it guilt that I couldn't possibly provide help that would last?  Was it that I passed two other men as I walked who I also know to be homeless and addicted?  For an hour I wrestled with why this time, this brief encounter stuck so deeply. 

And then I realized this with startling clarity: James' eyes, the seemingly endless need in them, reflected, in the second or two that mine met his, the need I saw in the eyes of a white, accomplished, respected, wealthy lawyer when we talked in a conference room last week.  It was a chance encounter, the end of a meeting on work-related topics.  His eyes, though lighter in color, also carried a seemingly endless need, water and emotion ready to spill out at any moment.  These eyes had seen things far different from James'.   They carried their own pain and need and ache.  If you passed him on the street, or on an escalator, you wouldn't know.  It would not be obvious.  When we talked, though, and he acknowledged the deep longing of his soul, a kind of hunger and need for shelter, I felt God between us.

These men's eyes and the hunger I saw in them, I know these eyes.  Sometimes I see them in the mirror.  Not all the time, but sometimes I look into them and somehow see more deeply than science could readily explain.  They are calling out, reaching desperately with all their strength: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  Then a question comes; it is in the tears holding up the watery eyes, so clear, so true: "What do you want me to do for you?"  The only answer that can be mustered then, so clear, so true: "Lord, I want to see.  Heal me."  (Luke 19:35-42)

Friday, November 2, 2012

When a Daughter Kneels and Washes Your Feet

On Saturday, I was out doing a few things in the morning and my daughter stayed home.  When I returned, she came to the door and pulled me into the living room where I saw a stool covered in lotions, creams, and bath salts.  In front of the couch was a pink basin filled about halfway with water.  In front of the basin was another stool with a towel next to it on the coffee table.  She asked me to sit down on the couch, take off my shoes and socks, roll my jeans up to my knees, and put my feet into the basin of water.

With some hesitancy, I did as she asked.  You must understand: I do not do this.  I have a hard time relaxing and I don’t let anyone touch my feet.  The water was hot and sent a shot of warmth through my body.  I looked up at my daughter, who was now sitting on the stool on the other side of the basin.  She poured bath salts into the water and asked me to soak my feet for five minutes.  Something in her eyes told me it was okay and I took a deep breath.  After five minutes passed, she kneeled before the stool and asked me to put one foot up on the towel now covering the stool.  She put an exfoliating cream on her hands and began to massage it into my left foot.  I almost started to cry.  The intimacy was overwhelming.  She lowered my left foot back into the basin and asked for the right.  She massaged the right as she had done the left.  I stared at her with wonder.  We said nothing.  She lowered my right foot back into the basin.  Then, she got back on the stool leaned down, bent in half, and cupping her hands, she rinsed my feet.  By this point, I was not just speechless, but breathless too.  I stumbled out repeated “thank you’s” but really just sat quietly, feeling her hands on feet that no one had ever cared for this way before.  The only thing I could think to do was to take a couple pictures in the hope that I would always remember this moment.  This washing and treatment lasted nearly 40 minutes.  Most of it was spent in silence, the movements and touches of the body saying all that could be said. 

At the end of his life, Jesus kneeled on the ground and washed his disciples’ feet with cupped hands. Just before he began, Scripture says of Jesus: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  (John 13:1)  He cradled a left dusty, calloused foot, and then a right one like the left, of each man, looked into their eyes, and loved them.  I got a glimpse of what these disciples must have felt in this moment of intense intimacy with the Savior of the world, the Prince of Peace, God-with-us.  They were confused at first and then looked into his eyes of grace and were overwhelmed by the power of his love.

“[W]hen the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing and rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”  (Titus 3:4-7)

I wonder if I have ever received love like I did Saturday with small hands rubbing and rinsing my sensitive, self-conscious feet.  My daughter’s love overtook me and I had no opportunity to accept it or reject it.  It just was.  I was so humbled by this love, powerless to it once I allowed myself to feel and receive it.  It was gentle, gracious, and pure.  It reminded me of my salvation.  When a daughter kneels and washes your feet, God breaks in.