"Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too."Frederick Buechner
Especially when I have a way events will go set in my head it is difficult for me to change plans under the best of circumstances. I spend a lot of time thinking about how something will go, the conversations that will be had and my responses to any possible tension, conflict, whatever.
Even worse is when I have a set time that I would like to arrive. I hate being late, I hate it. I've had huge fights with dear friends about being late. My tendency is to just throw people out of my way and get moving already so we can get somewhere on time. The ironic thing about that is I almost always get places early, I panic about being late and leave way to early and end up cooling my heals for awhile until whatever I was arriving for begins.
Friday I was going to a book reading by my house. Before I got there I needed to go to West Chester and pick up my friend Claire, who doesn't like to drive at night. I left work late because I was fussing with my hair in the bathroom and reapplying makeup (because I may or may not have an awkward and obnoxious crush on the author that was speaking). I was frustrated because I made myself late. Traffic was annoying because it was raining during the drive from work up to West Chester. It's really only about 30 miles total but traffic makes it take the time of about 50-60 miles, especially when it rains.
I had in mind I was going to pick up Claire, run to my house to pick up said authors book that I forgot at home and then head to the venue all by 630 so I could get good seats. Logically speaking I knew that there would be plenty of good seats to be had but I was all wound up about it in my head.
I was also worrying about money, because I'm totally broke. I mean, I'm not broke but the amounts of funds I have to vicariously spend frivolously is less than zero. Which is fine and my bills are being paid but owning a house by myself is expensive and hard and it's just catching up to me lately. So I was calculating and budgeting and wrapped up in my little world during the drive up to West Chester.
As I drive up the exit ramp to Union Centre I see her. The woman standing on the ramp holding the sign, "Homeless and Hungry. Anything Will Help" I immediately thought, "I don't have anything lady I'm flat ass broke" But I felt bad because I like to help, I know that even a smile and a kind word might help but this womans belly would still be empty and she would still be homeless. So I smile at her as I drive by and try to move my mind on to the subject at hand, budgeting, getting to the venue on time, what I was going to do the rest of the weekend. But my heart wouldn't move on.
My heart started telling me that even as broke as I am I am one of the richest people in the world. My heart told me that I had a car, a house, clothes, heat, family and friends that if I really needed it and was in trouble would bail me out no questions asked. I had food in my cupboard, my stomach was bulging with the results of our pot luck at work. My heart told me that my schedule, my plans, my idea of how things should go that evening was wrong. That I shouldn't be so worried about getting somewhere 30 minutes before an event starts that I sacrifice compassion for someone else. My heart sounded a whole lot like my God.
I turned to look behind me as I switched lanes to prepare for my turn and I saw it. The crock pot, still warm, filled with homemade rigatoni from the pot luck at work. But I immediately dismissed the idea because in order to give her rigatoni I would need a container, disposable silverware, time, energy and motivation to give it to her. All of those things I was running short on. But God reminded me again of how rich I was, of how much I had, and how a little inconvenience on my part wouldn't kill me. God reminded me that whatever I did for the least of these I've done for Him.
So I call Claire, and ask her if she has a container that she would be willing to not get back. She did. I stop at her house, spoon the rigatoni into the container elated that it was still so warm. We stop at a gas station to pick up utensils and we head back to the 75 overpass. I obviously can't drive down the off ramp, so I park on the overpass and jump out of the car. I realized I had two umbrellas in my car so I grabbed one of those. I walked down the overpass and up to the woman still holding the sign and said I had food and an umbrella for her. We chatted for a second, hugged, then I walked back to my car. I was damp, my carefully straightened hair was starting to frizz and I'm pretty sure my eyeliner was smudging. But the turmoil was still. My heart was calmed.
I told Claire that I was pretty sure I wasn't going to actually enjoy the evening until that task was accomplished, because how could I?
Even now I wonder where that woman is, what she's doing, if she's safe and warm. I wonder what else I could have done. I know that what I did was good enough but it doesn't feel good enough. It doesn't feel good enough to me that there are people that have no homes when I have a large home for just one small person. It doesn't feel right that people are starving when I'm eating myself to death. It's not comfortable, this knowledge of poverty in the world.
I get caught up in my everyday life, I get distracted and inward focused and I may even forget for a little bit that this other world exists because I'm so cozily ensconced in my world. I'm not saying that we should feel guilty for what we have, but maybe we shouldn't hold on so tightly to it when others have nothing.
It's not comfortable, living in this tension between how I wish the world was, how I wish the world worked and what is actually happening. I'm grieved with the knowledge of what is wrong and the knowledge that it will never be truly right until we're reunited with our Father in Heaven. I long for that day.
35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'