I have a confession…I spent years and years of my life not noticing. I would notice the clouds, sunsets, birds, flowers, but I wouldn’t notice people; intentionally never making eye contact for fear of initiating conversation or interaction with others. Was it because I worked in the Emergency Room of the local County hospital and I didn’t want former patients to approach? Was it because I had a slight case of social awkwardness? How about just plain selfishness…my time was MY time and I didn’t want to be bothered? Yes, all that and more. If I didn’t notice, I wouldn’t be responsible for not acting on what I observed. The little child in the grocery store being yanked around by a harried parent, the hungry homeless man on the corner with a sign and little else, the single mom who’s car wouldn’t start and was stuck in the parking lot, the worried older woman at the gas station who couldn’t figure out how to put gas in her car.
But something happened. I became a Christian, and while reading the Bible, I read the words in red. All of them. When Jesus says to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” it isn’t a suggestion…it’s a command. And when He says in Matthew that “whatever you do for the least of these, you do unto Me,” He isn’t talking in hyperbole…it’s literal. So I prayed. I prayed to be a good and faithful servant. I prayed to be of use to Him in every situation He placed me in. I prayed to have His eyes and ears to see the world as He sees it. I’ve always heard we should be careful what we wish for…I’m here to tell you to be careful what you pray for as well. Because He answered those prayers, and I can’t stop noticing. I can’t stop seeing. I can’t hide behind my excuses of not knowing anymore. And it really, really hurts. It doesn’t necessarily hurt when I help the older woman with her gas. It doesn’t really hurt when I make eye contact and talk to someone in the grocery store or help someone with their daily tasks, like opening doors and helping to pick up dropped change. It actually feels good when I’m able to feed or clothe someone in need. But it hurts when I see the homeless begging on the corner. It hurts when I see the strung-out girl selling her body just to survive another day, so she can be abused again. It hurts when I see a little 6 year old walking the streets alone with a dirty blue bandanna wrapped around his little face. One of the women who lives in this neighborhood told me his name was Robert and he lives with his grandma. He wanders the streets, sometimes with his little dogs walking with him, and she thinks they have him medicated now but all he really needs is love.
Yeah, that hurts. That hurts a lot.
As I drive past this little boy, I try to make eye contact. But already at age 6, he knows the indignity of being ignored, of being unworthy of notice. He walks a street with no sidewalk, past a weed-filled yard surrounding a house with broken windows, a chained pit-bull in the yard, and in his 6 years on the planet he’s already figured out that people don’t care, that life is hard, and he can’t depend on anyone but himself. He’s learned that people in cars don’t really see him and so he doesn’t look up. I keep driving because I don’t know what else to do and I cry with every mile I put between Robert and myself. I cry because it isn’t fair that my children have a safe place to sleep and food in their bellies and Robert doesn’t. It isn’t right that Robert lives within a literal block of a billion dollar wine industry and he doesn’t even have shoes on his feet. I pray that God will do something or show me how I can fix this. But He hasn’t and my heart hurts.
I don’t know how to end this. I don’t know what to do about the disparity of justice between the haves and have-nots. I only know that now that I see, I can’t stop seeing and I will never be able to not notice again.