Being Helpless

Every year on the first week of December I take a group of women to New York to do mission work. In the past, I wrote about seeing a woman lying on the cold sidewalk of 5th Avenue of NYC and how hopeless I felt not knowing how to help her. A similar thing happened this year.

We entered a subway car and the smell was almost overwhelming. Many of us sat with our scarves held over our noses as the scent of urine stung our nostrils. But it was more than just the smell of urine; it was the smell of decay.

The woman at the end of the car had plastic bags over her feet. Her clothes, if you can call them that, were tattered and thin. Her head was wrapped up in a scarf that also hid her face and she was hunched over onto herself. Almost as if she was trying to take up as little space in the world as possible. The only part of her body we could see was a hand that was shaking terribly.

Everyone in the subway car exchanged awkward glances as none of us knew quite how to respond. Do we look the other way? Do we try to help her? How? Someone had placed a plastic container of cupcakes next to her in an attempt to do something. I felt the familiar pang of guilt and I could see that same painful questioning in the eyes of all the people who were witnessing this.

One of the women on our trip was especially affected and broke into tears as we left the subway station. Later in the hotel, I tried to comfort her but she was inconsolable. Through her tears, she asked, “Why was I born into the life I have while people like her have to suffer so much?” All the answers I had for her seemed pat and cliché.

Yet, in that same subway station, there was something that helped me. After the election, a spontaneous posting of sticky notes began on one of the walls of the station. On the majority of the sticky notes were written sentiments of love, tolerance, unity, and kindness. It continued to grow as more and more notes were added daily until the wall was plastered with literally tens of thousands of notes and it continues to grow. (Shown in photo.)

I don’t know what to do for the woman on the subway, but what I can do is what was written on those sticky notes. I can smile at a stranger, help someone with the door, pray for an enemy, spend time with my family, and speak with kindness. Maybe one way to sum it all up is to say: I can love.

That may sound too simplistic or like a cop-out. But I don’t think it is. I can’t help everyone but I can have a positive influence on those lives who intersect with mine by simply loving them. Whether they are like me or not; whether I agree with them or not; whether they love me back or not. Love ushers in hope and drives out fear and at the end of the day, is perhaps the only thing we can do for each other that will change the world.

Being Human Connection:  To love requires seeing all people as fellow humans and companions on this journey called life. 

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters,  are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister  whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters  also. -1 John 4:18-21

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” -Matthew 5:43-45