October 14: The People We Avoid

Read Mark 5:1-20

I stepped on the bus, flashed my ticket to the driver, and found it relatively sparse. Especially compared to the morning’s rush-hour squish that’s becoming more routine than nuisance.

After earning the driver’s welcome-aboard nod, I chose my seat carefully, avoiding the kid in the middle. The Boy whose noontime presence on the 303 makes me nervous.

The first time I rode with him, he wandered among us passengers. Holding onto his backpack strings, saying three numbers over and over.

Eins null drei. Eins null drei. He said other stuff, too. Stuff I didn’t understand.

Muttering, the boy approached my fellow bus-riders and tried to make eye contact. He walked up to a lady and touched her like she was his mama. She wasn’t.

Then he wandered away, to the front of the bus. I grew tense with an anxious kind of fear.

Something was wrong with this boy, and he was alone on my bus. He was troubled. That troubled me.

I had no idea how to help him, should he need it, and I didn’t know what I would say if he talked to me. Certainly, he wouldn’t understand my broken-German or the fact that I could barely understand his words.

The Boy made me nervous that day with his wandering and his unknown words. I envisioned a total freak-out, a seizure, a question he might ask.

Most people wouldn’t think twice about that kind of stuff, but it shook me in my boots. Made me wish for different circumstances. Made me wonder what I was doing on this bus in this foreign land.

That was the day I first saw The Boy. I have avoided him every day since.

So that day, when I saw him, I continued the streak, finding a seat near the front next to a normal-looking elderly lady. Another successful avoidance.

What is it about people I don’t understand that makes them seem so scary? And why, in my mind, do I treat such people as if they are less than that, not worthy of dignity, my respect, my eye-contact?

It’s not just The Boy. It’s the man with the deformed face. The woman with no legs.

And what is it about the scary that keeps me from seeing them as people?

Why am I so scared to just look them in the eyes? Just validate their presence? Who am I to withhold dignity from someone just because I don’t understand their problems? Who am I to refuse them love?

When an elderly woman stepped onto the bus, I realized she had no seat. So I gave her mine. Because that’s what I do. I willingly give up my seat to those I deem worthy, while fearfully holding back eye-contact from another.

I let my fear of The Boy hole me up. Let it blind me with a tunnel-vision. Let it keep me from seeing over the wall called “I Don’t Understand.”

That’s when I realized I’d have to face my fear and stand near The Boy. Why I was so unwilling to let that elderly lady suffer having to stand up when I wasn’t even willing to give a smile to a little boy with problems?

I stood up casually and headed to the back. But the back of the bus was full by now, so I had to stand in the middle. Right next to The Boy.

He wobbled a bit as he wandered towards the front, the bus turning a corner on the cobblestone street. My heart sunk as I smelled my own stink.

For the first time, I saw The Boy as a person. For the first time, I noticed that the one I’d been afraid of, was himself just a scared little boy.  A young boy in a hat. Backpack full of school supplies. And a mind full of three repeating little words. A little boy, no more than eight years old, alone on a city bus and a little bit confused.

I wondered at my self-centered fear that kept me looking to protect myself instead of seeking to reach out and show him love. Kept me looking inward at all the things I don’t want to face instead of gazing outward for someone I can serve.

A little boy I can love. Even with just a smile unafraid that communicates the grace of Jesus Christ to a little boy alone on a city bus.


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