Even by New York City standards it was a little odd: older African American man dressed in raggedy clothes walking down the street pulling a battery operated PA system and talking into a microphone. Based on experience I expected him to be preaching some version of salvation…
I almost allowed his voice to fade into the sounds that fill the city… when he caught my attention by mentioning coffee. Yeah – I might have a problem in that area but never mind that for now!
“What is this worlds issue with everybody addicted to coffee? See it’s the caffeine they really want! What they really, really want? They want chocolate! Good old chocolate lovin’! Now you know it’s true! Once you go black…”
I watched, fascinated as crowds navigated around him – never missing a step or acknowledging his existence. And that’s just normal for the city – the odd is everywhere so it becomes invisible.
I broke the rule. I made eye contact. He began to walk beside me, talking to me thru the speakers. Smiling and flirting.
“Oh baby, you know it’s true! Come on – I’ll give you some… For free!!”
I couldn’t help it – his demeanor, while uhhh… odd…and verbally inappropriate… was still actually sweet. There was a gentleness surrounding him. A kindness.
And my first thought was, “I either look broke or desperate!” So I grinned. He grinned. And then he boldly declared his love for me.
And that’s when it happened. I walked over to him, told him I loved him too – and asked if it was ok to give him a hug.
His face lit up. “Why certainly!!”
And so I did. A kind exchange of respectful affection between strangers. And for one moment on a busy NYC sidewalk in Times Square, people stopped and stared.
They watched me intently as I waved bye to my new friend and walked toward my hotel.
As I navigated the crowd I caught curious eyes, surprised eyes… repulsed eyes, horrified eyes, accusing eyes. And that made me furious!
My mind was ranting to the people that seemed so judgmental… How dare they? They don’t know this guys story! Is he now less than human based on his ‘condition’ whatever it is? Ohhh I was indignant! And furious!
As the elevator doors closed I glanced up to see a completely disgusted stranger staring back. It took me a second to recognize my own reflection.
And I was ashamed.
As I walked to my room, my mind was spinning. I was forced to face my very own judgmentalness. And my heart broke.
Because no matter what Dexter says (if you don’t get that reference then never mind) but someone who bullies a bully – is still a bully.
And I hate bullies! People who don’t practice love – ick! I have no room for that… and maybe it feels good… perhaps godly… to love the orphans and widows… And maybe it’s easy to feel very self righteous. And to judge.
But what do I do with the ones who turn up their nose at the mere sight of homeless, addicts, mentally ill… broken people?
Perhaps it would be good for me to remember that I don’t know their backstory either. And to take a deep breath and remember the beauty, the value and the mandate… in loving the “unloveable” — whoever and wherever I might find them.
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