… then I will look at you with your eyes and you will look at me with mine.
– Dr. J.L. Moreno
There is a woman who sits in a park in Birmingham, Alabama. For as long as I can remember, she has sat in that park. She is older now. She doesn’t smell too good. She usually sits at the intersection of two walking paths hoping for someone to give her money for food. She is passive for a beggar but she is always present. I walked past her many times. Sometimes I shared pocket change. Most times I just walked by.[1. ©2017 Brandon Blankenship, Image Credit: Donnalee Blankenship]
One day, while waiting in line to enter an event at the park, we started talking. She slowly shared the story of the husband that beat her into the hospital. No longer able to think clearly she eventually lost her job. Her husband left. Unable to care for her children, they were taken by the state. Thirty something years have passed and she grieves the loss of her children. She wonders where they are and what kind of lives they might have had.
If her children had become pro athletes or millionaires or professors, I might have been quick to acknowledge that I knew their mother. I am quick to share her honor. St. Paul’s encourages that when one person is honored, we are all honored. And challenges that when one person suffers, we all suffer.[2. 1 Corinthians 12:26.] Since her children became wards of the state, I am tempted to reject her instead. I am slow to share her suffering. The real work of discovering humanity is leaning into, sharing the suffering with her. The real work is in not pulling away.
I don’t know what it is like to be beaten to the point of irreparable brain injury. I do know what it is like to suffer an injustice and not have the power to change it.
I don’t know what it is like for a court to determine that I am inadequate to be a parent. I do know what it is like to want or need to do something and question if I am adequate to do it.
I do not know what it is like to spend entire days ignored in a public park. I do know what it is like to feel alone.
By discovering her humanity, I discover that – whatever our differences may be – we have these things in common. We have a shared humanity. She agrees that she is still a mother even though her children were taken from her. I asked if I could call her mother, and she said I could.
Now, when I walk through the park, I look for her. When I see her, I call out “Hello mother!” and she smiles.
I am America, carefully picking the route I walk and drive so as not to interrupt my happy day. And when I stumble upon an interruption by accident, I have carefully honed my peripheral vision to ignore it. Visions of people who are beaten, alone, or hungry would interrupt my happy day. So, I avoid them where I can and ignore them where I must.
It is a Christian Practice to discover humanity as we walk, drive, work, and play. This requires stopping the practice of looking past people who are different from us to find people like us. It requires engaging humans as we encounter them.
People are sometimes gross, offensive, or painful – it is a Christian Practice to acknowledge them anyway, to engage them anyway, to love them anyway.
### Brandon Blankenship