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)