I read an article the other day that struck me. It spoke to the importance of making eye contact with people experiencing homelessness. Simply put, it is devastating to be invisible, and the blessing of acknowledgement is something we all have to offer.
Of course, many times we are not ready to see people who are homeless while we are trying to attend a meeting, a celebration or a night out. By not seeing, we can guard our feelings, and avoid the suffering they would bring.
This got to me, since this is an issue I feel strongly about but at times have been on the “I’m just trying to hang out with my buddy” side of. My professional life intersects with the world of housing and food insecurity, and so these issues are very dear to me. Nonetheless, I know what it is like to take the low road.
The low road reminded me of a similar stance I have taken, at sleep-deprived moments, as a parent. As a father of four children, ages 6 and under, I sometimes experience my weekday evenings as a mad rush to a moment of peace. This is an unhelpful perspective for a parent of young children to take.
Life is a series of interruptions. Life is sometimes the weaknesses and tragedies of all our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, playing out. How we choose to be in relationship with them is up to us.
When we choose to acknowledge them, we live in the present. We live in community. We experience other actual people, in synthesis with ourselves. And we are changed by it.
The realization that we are in relationship with people in such suffering can be terrifying. But it is an experience of truth, as opposed to the curated buffet of comfortable experiences our culture would have us craft our lives towards. Whether we are encountering an emotional volcano about the “feel” of “bedtime socks,” or the unacceptable carnage of slumlords, slave wages, addiction, isolation and lack of health care, we are called to be present to interruption, to suffering, to one another.
These examples seem to presuppose a one-way helping relationship between people who are not homeless and people who are, between the unhinged id of a tired toddler and a parent. I think Jesus’ message to us, in his dealings with the suffering and those on the margins, is that our relationships with them can be mutually transformative. This is the nature of love.
But it all begins with our attention. Jesus doesn’t just want service, he wants our love. In letting someone know they are valued, heard and seen, we can begin to show them their worth. We begin to understand who we are. The act remakes both people in a small way.
It’s our job as voters and policy makers to build what that love looks like on paper in public. But it’s also the job of all humans to really love one another. If we truly did, we’d have less suffering. Eventually that love might begin to help transform the policies that hurt our friends who are so hard to look in the eye.
Patrick Walsh is the manager of Martha’s Choice Marketplace, a choice model food pantry at archdiocesan Catholic Social Services’ Montgomery County Family Service Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about Martha’s Choice can be found at www.marthaschoicemarketplace.com.
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