Saturday, July 27, 2013

Living in the tension: How do we help others?

Driving to the grocery store, I noticed a man lying on the ground at the bus stop.  Something in the way he was haphazardly lying there, told me it wasn't a natural nap position.  I have seen countless homeless men and women lying on the ground to rest.  I have seen even more college students, or bikers, resting in the grass as they wait for the bus.  Nothing about this man's position communicated that he landed that way on the ground on purpose.  His arm was akwardly behind his head and his legs didn't look natural.

Something didn't seem right.

I was driving, and only had a moment to process what I saw.  I had to keep driving, or risk getting hit by the car behind me.

It didn't feel right though, driving away.

Every other car I saw was driving away.  None of them were driving toward the man to help.

I sat at the light and processed what it meant that we live in a culture that dozens of cars would pass a man, not moving, lying on the ground in an unnatural way.  It made me sad to be apart of the culture that was either too busy, too focused or too scared to care.  (Does this remind you of a parable Christ told?)

The light turned green and I turned around to go back.

At the very same time that I drove up, two other cars had turned around and were stopping.

My faith in humanity being restored a little in that moment.

I got out of my car to check the situation and talk with one of the other women that stopped who was on the phone with 911.  We could see he was breathing, but he still looked so unnatural and very, very still.  No one had approached him or touched him.

I walked over closer to the man so that I could get a better look and he could hear me talk to him.  I was just out of arms reach, and asked in a loud voice if he was OK.  He sat up, startled, and said he was fine.  I asked if he needed help, and he just laid back down.

Something didn't feel right.

I went to stand back next to the other women, and then the sirens of the police came from every direction.  Before we knew it, three police cars pulled up and took over.

An officer came out of her car and asked the gentleman if he was alright.  He sat up again, attesting to the fact that he was fine.  She asked if he needed any help since he was at the bus station and missed the bus just moments before.  His immediate response was, "PLEASE!  Don't take me back to rehab."

The officers looked at us and told us everything would be fine.  They told us they had it covered, they thanked us for phoning in, and we could go about our day.  These women and I exchanged glances, not knowing what else to do and said our good byes.

I did my shopping and on the way home 20 minutes later, the police were still there with an ambulance getting ready to the take the man to the local hospital.

I felt sad and relieved at the same time.  Life is clearly difficult for this man, but I was so thankful he was getting  help.

I came home and starting telling this tale to Paul with Big listening intently to our conversation.  Paul was of course immediately frustrated with me that I got out of the car.  He let his frustration show in the way he exhaled his breath.  Then he said something like, "Why did you do something so dumb?"

To which Big cried, "Mama didn't do anything dumb!  That's bad to say that dad.  She helped someone!  She did what she was supposed to.   Mama did something nice!"

Paul let me finish, then turned to Big and said, "I am happy mommy helped someone.  I really am.  But mommy could have stayed in the car where she was safe and called 911.  She risked her life by getting out and approaching that man.  He could have tricked her and was there waiting for an attack.  I always want mommy to help, but I need her to be safe.  She could have helped just as much by staying safely in the car, and getting the police there."

That is where the tension is.  That is what I felt in the car as I watched so many people pass by.  Not doing anything to help.  Not stopping.

How do we live in the light of hope and love while always being aware and safeguarding against the darkness?

I completely understand where Paul is coming from.  I get it.

And even while I get it, it breaks my heart that thoughts of protecting myself while helping others is a needed reality.

Gone are the days of just simply putting the needs of someone else before your own.  It is needed  to be aware of the traps and scams and people that will take advantage of kindness.  It hurt as Paul and I tried to explain this to our son.  We deeply desire to spur him on towards loving and helping others.  We want his life to reflect a heart for all people.  And yet, in that reality, we must make sure that he is at least aware of the darkness.  Aware enough that he is smart in the way he lives and comes to the aid of friends and strangers as he grows older.

There lies a tension in seeing people in their brokenness and doing what we can to help and love them, while remaining smart about how we go about it.

I want to throw caution out the window and just dive in.  I don't want to think about myself, or believe the worst in people.  I desire to do whatever I can to help someone, just because they need it.  However, Paul is right.  We live in a world where that could have easily been a trap and I would have walked right into it.  I could have suffered great damage or been one of thousands of women who disappear at the hands of a stranger, thus leaving behind a husband and three children, wifeless and motherless.

We can't be the people who just drive by, not seeing, or being too terrified to step out in love, worried always only about ourselves.

We must be a people who live in the hardness of the tension, especially as we teach our children.  We must be a people who helps a fellow man or woman or child in their moment of need.  I believe we can do it, while we are smart about it. 

We can't let fear win.

Love has to win.  Selflessness must win.  Compassion still exists, even in the tension.

I don't have an answer.  I don't know how to teach my children about this whole idea of loving others while protecting yourself.  I wrestle with it, not knowing how to understand it or live in it.

But I know I desire to find a way.  I desire for my children to always help others, and I desire for them to be smart.

In the meantime, we live in the tension, (hopefully leaning more towards love and selflessness).

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