By Kenneth Justice
~ Awhile back I was sitting at coffee one morning and I couldn’t help but notice the woman on the other side of the café who had tears streaming down her face. To be honest with you, I happened to be really busy that morning and the last thing on my mind was striking up a conversation with a woman in tears. I’m ashamed to say that I ignored her tears and kept on working.
After I finished my work I began putting my laptop and papers away when the woman walked over to me and said, “Excuse me, do you mind if I sit down with you?” At this point I felt bad for having ignored her for the last hour and I told her she could.
It turns out she had grown up in a wealthy suburb, earned a Masters Degree in teaching, and used to work as a music teacher at a nearby community college. However, by her account she married an abusive man and after one thing led-to-another she found herself divorced, an alcoholic, and for the past year she’d been working off-and-on as a prostitute to earn extra money.
She didn’t ask me for money, “I just had to tell someone my secrets” she said, “If my parents were to know what my life has turned into they would never speak to me again….I feel so alone”. We talked for a couple hours and although I gave her a phone number of a counseling facility that might help her; after she left the café I could clearly see that she wasn’t looking for help. She just wanted someone to know who she really was.
One of the things that I really admire about Jesus was the amount of time he spent with the down-and-out. Turn the pages of the New Testament and it seems like everywhere he went Jesus made spending time with homeless people, prostitutes, outcasts, the sick, and the super poor the main emphasis of his life. Jesus simply didn’t give a damn about the rich and the healthy.
And it’s for the same reason that I really admire Charles Dickens. Many people only know Dickens as “the guy who wrote a lot of really long and boring books…and ‘oh yea, he wrote the Christmas Carol”. But there is more to the story about Charles Dickens. You see, he lived in a time when there were major gaps between the rich and the poor. Prostitutes, orphans, homeless, the down-and-out were not even treated like humans by the upper classes during Dickens’ era. In fact…the people on the bottom were literally despised by the people at the top….the sick and the poor were merely faceless people to the healthy and rich.
And that was the world that Charles Dickens began writing to….and what did Dickens write about? He wrote about the poor, orphans, prostitutes and the down-and-out. Dickens showed the world that the people on the bottom were real people; he showed the people on the top that these people on the bottom had names, they had aspirations, they loved, they felt sorrow, and they were human; he showed the faces of the faceless.
Dickens’ books literally changed the world. The structure of caring for orphans and the poor in Great Britain improved dramatically thanks to the work of Charles Dickens. I can’t help but tear up as I type this because I am overwhelmed at how much one simple writer did…..in an era so long ago.
The woman at coffee was no different than me. In fact, by her own admission she had earned a number of college degrees at an earlier age than I achieved them. She came from a solid family. But life didn’t turn out the way she had anticipated. She was now at the bottom…….and she wanted somebody to know who she really is…she didn’t want to be invisible…she didn’t want to be faceless.
Isn’t that how so many of us treat the poor, the sick or the faceless around us; as though they are invisible? Sure, we donate our time during the holidays at the soup kitchen, we give money in the collection plate at church, or we sponsor a child in a foreign country……..
But the people who are down-and-out or struggling are often the people living right next door to us;
—-) They are the single mother with three children and no spouse to help raise the kids
—-) They are the elderly neighbor whose spouse has died and nobody comes to visit them anymore
—-) They are the stressed out parents of small children who don’t have enough money to hire a sitter
—-) They are the myriad of young people who come from alcoholic homes, divorced families, or abusive situations
—-) They are the people who are barely earning enough money to make their house payment or keep up with the bills
—-) They are the single adult living in a strange city all by themselves with no friends
Many of the down-and-out in our day and age look just like you and me. They are invisible to us because we never take the time to get to know them. In many ways it’s easier to see the problems of the homeless….because they often look homeless. But to see the problems of the poor, the struggling, the down-and-out…..we are going to have to get out of our comfort zones and talk to our neighbors if we really want to see them.
They are the people we go to church with and they are the people who sit across from us at coffee. They are the people who need us to sit down next to them and share a cup of coffee.
Categories: People Without Faces