Friday, February 15, 2013

Lent's Walking Companions

He said his name was Seymour but I may have misheard him. We met on the express train from 14th Street to Grand Central—he was blind and panhandling. I realized later that he’d timed his pitch - “Ladies and Gentlemen, good day, I’d appreciate it if you could spare any change” - to coincide with arrival at the next stop. He perfectly negotiated his cane and cup through the entire car just as we pulled in. It was nice to watch a real professional in action.

As he got off he answered the question I had about how a sightless person moved around in the commotion of an underground rush hour. “Anyone going upstairs and to the shuttle?” he shouted. I offered my arm and guided him up the stairs. I said I wasn’t going in his direction but I could “point out” where to go. “I’m well beyond any pointing out, man.” Chagrined, I walked him to the shuttle.

Seymour was well-built at over six feet and muscular. You always wonder about the real story when the impaired was as well-dressed and physically sound as he was. But as we walked along he told me that he worked in construction and this had happened “on-the-job.” It wasn’t my business to ask any more questions; it was obvious he couldn’t see by his tentative steps and celerity with the walking stick. I could make assumptions, though.

He was on his way home to Harlem (on the west side) after a full day’s work of begging on the more lucrative Lexington Avenue subway. He might do a couple of round trips on the shuttle for some easy change since the ridership changed every 6 1/2 minutes. He was travelling light so the chances are he wasn’t homeless, his hygiene was good, and so were his shoes. Which brings me to his  blindness. My guess was his sight was somewhat impaired but he used this full ruse for income.

As you read this it might seem he was hustling. If so, that’s a lot of labor for small change. True, you can get a good spot on the bottom of the  escalator but decent returns come from working the subways where you have a captive audience. I interrupted this fantasy-brought on by my charity*-realizing in the checklist litany for Ash Wednesday my tally wasn't admirable.

…I have not loved Seymour as myself; I have been deaf to your call to serve (this mini-journey trivialized it); I confess the pride, hypocrisy and impatience of my life; …my exploitation of Seymour. BCP, pp.267-68.

When we reached the stairs leading down to the Times Square shuttle he made another announcement. It startled me how quick it came to his lips; my journey with him was afterthought. Didn’t I mean anything to him? I wanted some acknowledgement of how kind I’d been. 

“Anyone going to Times Square and the uptown 1 train?”, he bellowed. Soon he was on the arm of an oriental man and on another Samaritan journey.

These days of Lent ask us, “How much of Christ are you?” God will give us plenty of times to check that out. The true lament is that I never bothered to know Seymour or he,  me. The Collect for this season urges us to have "contrite hearts" from the Latin, conterere, meaning bruised. Sharing that bruising with a walking partner the Holy Spirit presents is the deeper, salvific act. 

*Inherited from my institutional church heritage: trivial charity moment satisfies the giver but obscures a larger story of injustice. 

1 comment:

  1. "Where you find two or three gathered in my name, you will find me"

    The Christ in us demands we unite. Let us therefore look for the Christ in others to see the Christ in ourselves.