My usual daily prayer in the morning goes something like this:
"God, I pray for protection from myself, and may I be effective and open to wherever you are working in Calgary today."
For there are days where I can be my own worst enemy and be a hindrance to my projection as a Christian. I know that when I am good and actively engaged in relations with others, when I am open to God's spirit and mindful of opportunities to show love, that small miracles can happen. All it takes is conscious acts of grace to make the world a better place.
So it was today that while on my noon walk through the downtown I encountered a man. He was an Aboriginal who was roughly my age. I saw him in a crowd; people wanting to get by to wherever they were going. I wanted to get to a train to go back to work. However, the sidewalk was narrow, and only a single file of people could pass. I took to the side for the sake of others. I spotted that dishevelled look that made him stand out. His hair was shoulder-length, he had a wisp of a moustache, his eyes were dark, and he walked with a bit of a slouch. He wore a blue coat, like a goose-down parka. I sensed that he was going to ask me for money. Thus, I tried to walk past him. He spoke to me in a soft voice. Now, I could have ignored him and kept crossing the street. Something, in an instant, compelled me to turn back to him.
Now being closer to him I smelled his body odour. If you have ever had to walk through where men have been drinking and perspiring on a hot day it's a scent that you'd recognize. It was a sour and foul smell. But I was engaged in listening to him, and chose to disregard this sense. He asked me for a Loonie so he could take a train down the south line. I told him I don't give change to anyone, but I would buy him a coffee; there was a Tim Horton's nearby. He mumbled a reply, and then plainly accepted my offer.
I asked for his name, which he supplied, and said he was from the Tsuu t'ina Nation west of the city. He admitted to being just released from jail the day before,and said he had an appointment with his probationary officer at 1 PM. It was five to the hour when we stepped into line at Timmy's. I briefly worried that my charity might cause him to be late. He seemed to be aware of that stating that she was in an office above us. He spoke of having had his H1N1 shot at the Stampede grounds clinic; that he was an artisan; that he needed to get his Treaty card down at the Sarcee offices on the south end of town. It could all have been true or it could all have been a lie. I decided it wasn't going t be my call.
I noticed a certain hesitancy in his step as we went into the store entrance. Just as noticeable was the look on the security guards' face when he spotted my companion coming in as well. I suspected the two were familiar with each other. Probably had I not spoken to him he would have been bounced out the door.
We briefly waited in line making chit-chat. There was no "how many goals do you think Iggy going to score this year" kind of talk. Much of what was already said just got repeated. I placed the order for him, and ordered a large half-cream for myself. He wanted a long john, they were out, so he took a donut with maple icing instead. He told me that there had been a study on chocolate, and that the report concluded children who ate high concentration of it turned out to be violent. "Really," I replied, "I love chocolate, and look at me." As I concluded payment he spoke up, thanking me for the food, and asked again if he could get some change. I said,"I don't do that. But you have a good one, buddy." I turned and went out the store. I admit to quickly putting some distance between him when I booked out. I crossed the street and got on the LRT platform, going halfway down to wait for the train. Why did I do that?
To avoid any awkwardness that might surface. I didn't know his frame of mind. Therefore I cannot guess what he must feel standing on the corner begging, being ignored and maybe even being rudely told off. Does anyone become immune to that? Honestly, I wasn't feeling for him at that moment. I wanted to avoid be worn down into giving up my cash. I didn't want to be delayed getting back to work. The reasons start to pile up on why I didn't want to interact with the guy anymore. I responded to the call of grace; I did my job. Nevertheless, questions surface: How much of a difference did I make? Could I have gone farther? Why the heck wasn't that prayer of protection from myself kicking in? Committing random acts of grace should not leave you feeling neurotic.
The Apostle Paul implored the ancient Galatian church to carry each others burdens -- to love your neighbour -- to do not is risk of deceiving yourself into thinking "...he is something when he is nothing…" (Gal. 6:3, New Testament, NIV).