Driving Lessons

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It’s Friday. My day off. May I offer you a snapshot of the day?

  • Alarm set a half  hour later.
  • Assembled Caleb’s lunch and attempted to coax some breakfast into him.
  • Left bed unmade as it is time to change the sheets. Later.
  • Hair appointment to straighten the unruly curly and presto change-o the grey, the white, the silver to ebony.
  • Read text from Carl while under the dryer wondering if I can make a 1:30 car appointment to assess low tire pressure. I reply yes.
  • Pay and tip my hair genius.
  • Drive to The Whole Bowl for a speedy lunch, no black olives, cilantro or sour cream please.
  • Sit in cushy chair and read while my tire is being inspected. Diagnosis: a stray nail.
  • Dart to car and dodge every raindrop because you know, my glorious hair.
  • Drive home, make menu plan and grocery list.
  • Drive to store, load up my cart, the cashier asks if I had any trouble finding what I needed, no trouble at all as I glance at the conveyor belt. We talk about his desire to work closer to home due to the long bus ride home when he closes the store, I thank him for his help, tackle the parking lot, demonstrating ninja skills to avoid rain drops.
  • I push a button to heat my seat and sigh that MY day has evaporated.
  • Drive to pick up a pizza to bake at home before we head to a night at the movies.
  • Bed remains unmade.

I grin because there is a parking place at the eternally full lot shared by several businesses. If I can just wait out this stop light and turn quickly, I will have a coveted space. But I am hurrying and the turn is more hairpin than I anticipated so I struggle. I glance up at the front of the pizza entrance and there is a man cross-legged leaning against the window. He is making hand motions with a slight smirk to guide me as I re-position the car. After two tries, I have accomplished the feat or should I say we mastered the parking space. I jump out of the car and say to the man, “I think I could use your help in my life.” He laughs, nods and smiles as I enter the store.

I exit with arms full of pizzas and climb into my vehicle. I pause for a moment and reach for my wallet. I am unaware of its contents as most of it was left at the hair salon but I know there is some so I empty it and as I reflect later, it was a tenth of my hair plus tip. Hmm. I climb out of my car and lean over to my driving instructor, look at him and tell him, I hope he is able to have a hot meal tonight. I place papers into his hands and he says Amen. I drive away, not before glancing back and seeing him extend his hand for a fist bump with a 3-year old who eagerly accepts the exchange.

I wonder why I offered money and not an invitation to  share pizza in my home. The bills were easier to give, I suppose. But isn’t he my neighbor?

This truth haunts me.

My drives across Portland equally haunt me. No matter the path or direction, the terrain is lined with a rainbow of tents. Everywhere. I cannot ignore my heated seat existence in contrast to those who bear the brunt of the elements every moment of their days. There are no days off. There are no clean sheets.

I don’t have answers. What does it mean to offer the excess of my wallet and not myself, my life to someone in need.  I don’t know how to reconcile that I have power to change the existence of my hair type with a phone call and some cash and I feel tongue-tied when faced with multitude of those in need.

I am going to let the question percolate in my soul until I hear with better ears and see with clearer eyes. There are plenty of organizations I can partner with but first a little heart repair is necessary.

I don’t know even a part of the story of the man who helped me park. I didn’t even ask him his name. It is easy to make assumptions. He may or may not be homeless.  But I know he is a son. He could be a brother, an uncle, a husband or a father, a friend. I drew near enough to see he had lost part of his  pinkie finger. I am sure he could write paragraphs of that episode and pain from the loss of a part of himself and the pain which finds him seated by a pizza store window.

Alan Graham says “the single greatest cause of homelessness is a profound, catastrophic loss of family.”

I am grateful for his words as they help lower the pointed fingers of presumed reasons for homelessness. How would any of us survive without the people we name as family? When we lose family, we lose the connecting points of our identity.  I don’t want to imagine the magnitude of being severed, but I see it painted along the highways and the no longer hidden corners of my city.

The man I encounter, asked for nothing. I think he wanted to be noticed, to feel connected, to feel valued. If I am honest,some days, actually most days, it’s hard for me to look because it requires truly seeing myself and my life crammed with stuff. I’d rather try to outrun the rain that might ruin hair than the many who live continually with rain-soaked clothes.

This man, he is my neighbor. This means I am his neighbor.

Would he consider me his neighbor?

All I do know is I needed his help more than he needed mine.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word and deed,

by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.
~The Book of Common Prayer

 

 

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