How, then, should we love?

Many years ago, when I was in my 20s, I had an encounter that made an impression on me. One that changed me and made me realize the power of presence and how we are each part of a larger, spiritual family. Here is that story.

*******

The day-long conference had been uplifting. Spiritual speakers. Healing energies. Positive thoughts. I walked from the hotel into the dark of the city. And into a relentless, monsoon-like rain. I had blocks to go before reaching the parking garage.

As I scurried down the dimly-lit street, wind and rain buffeting my umbrella, a bundle heaped against the wall snagged the corner of my vision. What was it? I hesitated and glanced. It wasn’t a “what” but a “who” — a person, hunched in the downpour. A woman.

Homeless-womanShe was one of the many homeless in the city and my heart dropped to my knees. Should I help her? What should I do? What could I do? She was drenched. But I had just left a workshop about loving others, about helping the world become a better place. Shouldn’t I do something?

I stood there, momentarily paralyzed, the urge pulling me to ask her how I could help against my own better sense to keep moving. And then, as I stood there, a car pulled up to the curb. A couple got out. They asked the woman if she was OK. They had sandwiches and hot coffee. Could they take her somewhere, to a shelter where she would be dry and safe?

I watched for a few minutes as the woman shook her head. She seemed to want to stay there, although they kept pleading with her to come with them. But she took the food. And they gave her blankets and an umbrella.

I turned and continued walking to my car, a mix of deep emotions. I was touched by the compassion and courage of the couple who had stopped and asked this woman if she needed help, and I was ashamed that I had not. These many years later, I regret not acting.

What stopped me? In hindsight and all honesty — fear. Fear of the unknown, of my safety, of what I might be called on to do. Decades later, this particular woman has stayed with me and hopefully I have gained some wisdom since that experience.

As a journalist, I went on to write articles about the homeless and after interviewing them I discovered this: They feel invisible and they want to be seen. They want their presence to be acknowledged, even if it is a simple “Hello. How are you today?” Instead, they have watched many of us walk by in discomfort. When we see them on city streets we rush by because it dredges up many issues — judgment, guilt for not doing more, not wanting to become involved and also the frightening reality, “This could be me.”

The truth is, it is you. And me.

That rainy night I indeed could have acted. I could have offered not money — not even my umbrella — but something even more powerful, the gift of acknowledging that woman’s presence as another human being, as a sister made in the image of the Divine, as I am.

Life will always give those moments that will test our spiritual center. It’s never an easy call. I’m sure each of us has had this inner struggle, seeing someone in need and gauging it against our safety. Or wondering how much we should HANDSTOUCHINGS-33_000extend ourselves. Sometimes common sense should and will prevail. And sometimes we will act with courage, no matter the cost.

But those moments — however they present themselves — will draw from the deepest parts of our being as to how we are living our lives. They will help us see our rough edges and where we need to soften. Those moments will help us grow. And deepen.

Most of us all, if we are open, they help us see ourselves in one another. And witness the presence of love in the face of another. No matter the guise.

 

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8 thoughts on “How, then, should we love?

    • Thanks for taking time to respond, Sandy. I think it’s an individual decision how or if we respond to someone in need, but I think what I learned most through that experience was to truly “see” and acknowledge the Divine presence within each person.

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  1. Elena, I am not sure I have shared this with before or not, but several years ago I got involved in a homeless ministry in Athens called Athens PBJ. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the draw, but the real staying power for our friends on the street is the desire for human companionship. The desire for one person to feel like they are worth looking at, talking to, embracing…even if they haven’t bathed in a while is what we all have innately inside us…as we are made in the image of God. Because someone lives on the street, does not make them any less human.
    Read the gospels and over and over again you will see that when Jesus went out in to highways and the byway, he would “look”, he would have “compassion” and then he would “act” and do something. My desire is to be like my Lord. I do not want to look away, and so when I look, I am filled with compassion. When that compassion is bubbling up, I MUST do something for if I do not, then in reality I am betraying the one who gave His everything for me!
    Thank you for the article. This has become a very important issue for me. It does not earn me my salvation, as no good works can do that (Eph 2:8). What it does is help me work out my salvation (Phil 2:12) and do those good works that God has planned out in advance for me to do (Eph 2:10)!

    Love you!
    Sean

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    • I didn’t know you were reading my blog, Sean, but many thanks for taking time to do that and for your comments! When we look with the eyes of “love,” yes, we are moved to compassion to act, as did Jesus. Thanks again!

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  2. I love your perspective and the staying power of this one encounter or lack thereof. I’ve been paralyzed time and again by that “what if?” on the sidewalk. What if I gave them some money, what if I bought them a hot heal, what if I stopped everything I was doing and talked to them as long as they needed a conversation? Thanks for this reminder to look and act with love.

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  3. So glad you stopped by to comment, Tom! That one experience has always stayed with me, a valuable lesson in learning to be “present” to those around me and to simply — as you said — “look and act with love.”

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  4. Beautiful post, Marielena & an eye opener in many ways.The first time, I saw a homeless person was when I first moved to this country, we were driving in the snow thru those underground bridges in downtown, I was gazing at the gentle snow falling outside & was pulling my winter coat closer to me to keep myself warm inside the car, when I noticed something move under the bridge, when the car stopped at a traffic light.The first time, I ever heard the word, I froze, how could anyone stay out in a night like this , in the middle of winter, I wondered aloud ? I was told, that it was not safe to step out to help or offer any help, coz one never knows who we are dealing with.Listen as I did, just like you the picture stayed in my mind,holding unshed tears for a stranger I did not know, yet he was human like you & me. A year later we were in Texas, driving in the middle of a sandstorm & in the heat of the day, I saw this pregnant lady standing in the middle of an intersection holding a board that read “homeless”, I passed by her the first time, with the voice in my mind hearing the words I heard the first time, but the “me” in me took over & turned the car around stopped at a store got her some bread , milk & fruits returned to the same spot & offered it to a surprised lady.She was more surprised to see me crying, the tears wouldn’t stop, I asked her if she needed some help to walk to the side of the road or some building where she can sit in a shade & eat in peace, she spoke Spanish which I could not speak, we were communicating at a different plane altogether, yet the message was conveyed, gratitude in her eyes & mine for sharing the experience.One thing I have realized is, in spite of all the fear inducing news you hear on the media or otherwise, when put in situations that speak to your conscience you invariably respond from your spiritual center where fear or any such low energy feelings don’t exist.We see each other as how our creator created us in his vision & in that every one is equal, everyone is beautiful.Thank you, for allowing me to share my experience, your beautiful post brought back memories .

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    • Maya, this is an incredibly beautiful and touching story. You were moved to act, to help a woman — pregnant and homeless — with food and caring. I am so honored that you shared this here. You responded so lovingly from your “spiritual center” and yes, we are equal and each human being is beautiful. Thanks so much for gifting us with your heartfelt stories!

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