It happens every day. I’m sitting at a red light on my way to work; listening to my music, coffee in hand. In my own little world, just thinking about how many minutes late I’m going to be.
When suddenly, I see him. He is dressed in plain black pants and a winter coat hardly thick enough to keep out a light breeze. He is carrying a sign that says, “Homeless, please help, God bless.”
And he is coming toward my car.
I don’t have anything that I can give him and will do anything to avoid an awkward interaction. All I can think is how I can keep from letting him know that I’ve seen him. “Keep your eyes forward! Don’t look out the window! Look intently at your phone and don’t look up.”
As I sit paralyzed by feelings of guilt, straining my neck to turn in the opposite direction, he passes my car and moves on to the next. I breathe a sigh of relief. But a bad feeling sits in the pit of my stomach. No matter how I tried to hide it, I know that he knows. I saw him.
I saw him, and I didn’t let him know. I saw him, and because of my own fear of being unable to meet his need I averted my eyes. In my own selfish desire to avoid an awkward moment, I missed the chance to fulfill for someone one of their most basic needs; the need to be seen.
Not just to be seen, but to be recognized. To be acknowledged as a human being. I can only begin to imagine going through life never being seen. Even more so I can only fathom what it must be like to have people purposefully turn away; to make you feel invisible because of their own fear and insecurities.
Since thinking more about my interactions (or rather lack of interactions) with this man, I’ve realized just how much I try to keep others at arm’s length. It’s as if I live in my own bubble. Walking, talking, eating, sleeping, breathing, almost quite literally in my own world. As if me and everyone else are just walking around completely separate of one another.
But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. We all live in this world. Every single one of us, sharing it together. Whether it’s someone I know and love or whether it’s a total stranger. We may come from different cultures, backgrounds and experiences, but we are all human beings. Designed in the image of our creator. Image bearers of Christ.
The woman in the hall who I pass with my head down. The man in the elevator who I choose to ride silently with. The custodian at work who I won’t even turn to say hello to. The man on the corner with the sign, wishing me God’s blessings. They all carry God’s image on their faces, just as I do. They may be strangers, but they aren’t so different. They have no right to be ignored. But they have every right to be seen.
So tomorrow when I stop at the light, I will step outside of my world. I will burst the bubble that I choose to live in, and see the man who I share this world with. I will look in his eyes, and whether I can meet his needs that day or not, I will be sure that he walks away knowing that someone saw him. Someone knows he is alive and intentionally took notice. Someone who may not walk alongside him through life, but who walks this earth with him every single day.
I will be sure that he is seen. And I will be certain that he knows.
Flickr photo (cc) by mrbill