Seeing When It’s Not Pretty
Today’s post is by Trish Stefanik
It is his feet I notice first. My mind right away says, homeless. It is uncomfortable to see, but something in me says don’t turn away, stay with your feelings, don’t opt out.
I am on the Metro early this November morning on my way to catch an Amtrak train from DC to NC to lead a retreat. The train is business day pack-full. I am standing and practically hovering over a slumped, trying-to-slumber figure—a man or woman, I can’t immediately tell.
The feet and ankles are unrecognizable, so grossly swollen and riddled with marks resembling rotten wood. I think these must be crazy tights, but no, the toenails tell otherwise.
This is not easy to write and I imagine for you not easy to read. But please stay with me.
From the feet my eyes slowly pan up. The figure’s hair is about chin length, brunette and a bit wild with hints of gray, like mine. The head is bowed down low and bounces with the train’s fits and starts. With one particular jolt, a man’s face appears; I catch a glimmer of eyes before the head drops again.
I am grateful to see the man attired in a jacket appropriate to the morning’s chill. But then there are the sandals, and no socks. It is achingly ironic that the shoes sport a logo of an adept jumping athlete.
At the man’s feet are two worn bags. I conjecture that what fills them are everything he owns. I glance at my carry-on and backpack. These hold just a weekend’s worth of clothes and other items, not including home goods, a well-stocked kitchen and refrigerator, a linen closet, bath accessories, hobby and recreational stuff – I think you know what I mean.
I notice my breath catching a bit. My gaze turns to the other passengers on the train – all shapes and sizes and colors of humanity – all on the way to somewhere. I wonder where this homeless man is going. Please, I pray, I want him to find a way to Christ House, a residential medical facility for homeless men and women, in my neighborhood. I know they wash feet there, as Jesus did. Please.
With each stop of the train, the crowd disperses a little more. All this is happening in a matter of minutes. At some point I briefly take an open seat across from the slumped man with the swollen feet and hair like mine. I resist the urge to look away or judge or dismiss. I continue to pray. I feel the discomfort, the fear, the sense of helplessness and hopelessness. I look down at my feet, and for a brief moment I see myself in his shoes. I feel tears behind my eyes. The train is at my stop, and I get off.
In my city I see homelessness and encounter some degree of social vulnerability or suffering every day on the streets. Every day. And even if I did not see it, there is no denying such reality right around the corner or in the town just over, as well as from country to country across the globe.
I do not like that this is the way of the world. Most of the time I don’t know what to do. But I trust that there is something good that comes with being present to what is. Even when that within or before me is not pretty, a contemplative reception is leaven for hope. Transformation of self – and, yes, the world – begins with one willing look of compassion. It opens me to see ourselves in God. Surely it is this kind of love that propels and animates creative action for healing and wholeness.
I am onboard Amtrak now, gliding into Virginia. I look at the passengers around me, the fall color out the window. Everything appears sharper. As the train moves, I am aware that something has been stirred, hope-filled, in me. I breathe a prayer of thanksgiving. And I pray that in the now and the next thing, I will do what is called forth out of love.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: Take a moment to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. What comes up in you? Stay with that. Offer a prayer for yourself and the other. Listen for an action you might take or join in for good.
(Photo Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Consider giving the gift of a contemplative experience to yourself or a loved one this Christmas season.
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