A drop of snot should not be so powerful.
For all my doubting of my soul’s existence, there are things that just wreck my soul, if only for a moment. There I was, halfway into the journey home from a retreat, sitting in a coffee shop with my three co-workers, and I let my eyes wander, as usual. He…touched me, somehow. Sitting two tables away from us, I kept seeing him, even after looking away and returning to the discussion around me. I must have told myself to stop staring at least 10 times. Even my body shifted towards him. All because of one drop of snot, a beacon of sorts.
Was he crying? Was it just the weather? Did he not feel it? Balanced on the end of a nose perfectly at home in a face clichés do no justice. A face I hadn’t even noticed…because of that drop of snot. That’s when it hit me–I had seen him a few minutes earlier, reaching for one of the employment application forms. Seen him, but not noticed him, and suddenly I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I became aware of his restless hand motions as he filled out the application form, of the way he flipped through his tiny spiral notebook.
This complete stranger was suddenly real to me. He wasn’t just another face. He was human. Very much so. I had seen him, and I could not put him from my mind. Without even looking at me, he had collided into the place where I am most human.
“Is it weird to ask a stranger to borrow a pen?” The words were out before I could stop them, and my co-workers’ response gave me the courage to leave my seat. He gladly offered me a pen and a page from his book. Completely convinced of my official weirdo status, I wrote him a note, thanked him for his pen, and went back to our table.
A few minutes later, I was back, and he was nice enough to let me sit across from him, and we talked. Well, he did most of the talking. His name is John. Only then did I notice the state of his hands and jacket, and other tiny clues that should have alerted me. John is homeless. Still, for all that I was blind to, it was his utter humanity that spoke to me, that almost haunted me all the way home.
But, it won’t last.
Perhaps it is a consequence of our tendency to put adjectives in front of the word ‘people’, but we are such masters at missing the very thing that makes people who they are: their humanity. I do it, too. Incredibly easily. So, before I move on, I ask you to help me pray for John. More importantly (since prayer isn’t everyone’s thing), help me look for John–the John in each of us. Just a soul awaiting recognition.
I am by no means suggesting John needed to meet me. It seems I needed to meet him. He is more than a blog post. He is…strangely real. I pray for him, but I will move on. Because that’s what we do, isn’t it? We return to our lives, secure our own worlds, and express the requisite pity when the occasion calls for it. Should we enjoy whatever good there is to be found in this life? Definitely, but maybe we can take a moment to look. We just might find that place where we are all the same, and learn to live, one human with another.
We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.
– Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, 2015 recipient of the Templeton Prize