Living on the Razor’s Edge
It’s 4:04 a.m. and I’m wondering about someone. A few people actually. I’ve been wondering about them a for a while.
There are more than a few homeless men and women living near my home in downtown Huntsville, Alabama. When I lived in the suburbs I rarely saw them. Oh, occasionally I would find myself trapped in that awkward space at a traffic light where men or woman gaze vacantly past the eyes of me and other commuters. In the liminal space between red and green, these doleful souls stand quietly hoping someone will crack a window and pass a few coins into their fatigued waiting hands.
I’m wondering how long it’s been since the young man with the Sewanee University tee-shirt has had a meal.
I’ve led a pretty charmed life. Sure, I’ve had my share of disappointments and trials. Promotions I didn’t get. Relationships that didn’t work out. A scary call from the dermatologist followed by some unexpected surgery. Those were rough patches. Very rough. But this morning, they don’t seem to loom quite as large. My apartment is cool. My bed is soft. There’s food in my pantry. And last night, I celebrated a victory with some friends.
I’m wondering about the man with the scratches on his face, sitting on the curb, with the ice-stuffed blue trash bag delicately pressed against his elbow.
A few weeks ago, I spent a sleepless night suffering from a terrible headache. The following morning, I called my doctor. Within a few hours, I walked away from his office with two prescriptions and high hopes for a better night’s sleep. When I picked up my medicine, I threw in a half a gallon of Moose Tracks ice cream—just because I could. Then I went home to an air-conditioned home where I waited comfortably for the meds to kick in.
I’m wondering about the old man with the beard dragging the cart behind him. He’s the one continuously talking to himself. Or maybe he’s doing battle with some relentless demon that plagues him. I’m wondering how far he walked today and how he can wear that long-sleeved shirt and gloves on a sweltering Alabama August day.
To be clear, trials are trials. They should not be diminished. And they are ours to navigate. But I can navigate mine with the comfort and wisdom of my family, my friends, and, from time to time, my counselor. They are my physical and emotional safety net. I’ve had to learn to trust it—my pride gets in the way, you see. But when I’ve fallen those short distances into it, my net has never failed me.
I’m wondering about the shirtless man peddling a bicycle who barked “I’m okay” refusing my offer of a bag full of food. I’m wondering if he really is okay and if I somehow offended him.
I’m wondering if we recognize we all live on the razor’s edge of calamity. A few missed paychecks. An unexpected diagnosis. Betrayal. An economic crisis. It doesn’t take much for the mythological Eris, the Greek goddess of discord and strife, to have her way with us. If we’re paying attention, we will recognize it, I think. Perhaps it will change us.
Maybe, we will learn to genuinely appreciate the value of the warm touch of a friend.
Or perhaps we will be grateful that our family and peers do not avert their eyes in our presence.
We might be less likely to complain there’s nothing to eat, or that it’s too hot or too cold, or even that we can’t sleep.
Or perhaps we will realize the least of these deserve our compassion regardless of how they found themselves on living on the streets, that we feed them because they are hungry. We clothe them because they are cold, not because they have passed our test of worthiness. Our meager efforts may never change the world. It may not seem to matter in the grand design of life. But I’m certain it matters to the ones to whom we’ve offered our help—if only for a moment.