Friday, January 26, 2007

Suspicion and Isolation

Last night I saw a homeless man bundled on a bench downtown, a rare sight here in Kingsport. It was already well below freezing and late. It was obvious the old man would spend the night outside. I remembered that as a younger man I would have gone to help a suffering person, but older and more suspicious I went to my car. I had plenty of space in my warm home, but strangers could be dangerous.


As I drove away I realized that with my wife out of town the standard excuse that “I can't endanger my family to help a stranger” couldn't be used. The fact that I might leave an old man to suffer to defend only my property made me feel a bit sick to my stomach. It was more shame than kindness that made me turn my car around.


“Hi, do you have a place to sleep?”


“No.”


“If you need a warm place to stay tonight, you can stay at my house.”


At first the old man seemed to smile then frowned again. “No thank you.” It was odd to realize that this man who I had so distrusted also viewed me as a potentially dangerous stranger.


“You sure? It's pretty cold.” He nodded. I waved good-bye, “Okay. God Bless.”


The grizzled old man pulled his coat tighter around him. “I have no god but myself. Thank you though.”


I drove home alone, and watched TV until I fell asleep. I used to hate TV, but these days it is my most frequent companion. I'm sure his night on the bench was miserably cold. It is tragic how isolated we have become in the modern world. For social creatures we are extraordinarily distrustful and detached from each other. We shun each other and even shun God. Our individualism doesn't result in much happiness, just coldness.

5 comments:

Jasmin said...

It is tragic how isolated we've become. I wonder what that man's story was...

hannah said...

The structures of our culture don't seem to leave much room for showing hospitality to strangers. Any more thoughts on how we go about recreating that space? Your willingness to step out and offer your home is convicting to me.

J. Samuel Thomas said...

“I have no god but myself. Thank you though.”
This is very telling.

Perhaps this has something to do with how he came to be where he is now.

The very idea that we are or can be seperated from the whole, is in itself a proclamation of self sustainability.

This is something that only God can do.

Interestingly enough, even God chooses to express Himself via the plurality of many human beings.

To claim that "I am my own God" is to become set apart from the rest.

To realize that I am not my own God but that I am in God, leaves room for others and causes me to view others as myself, with no walls inbetween us, and to care for and treat them in a way that I would want to be cared for and treated.

Anna Marie said...

Your inclination not to offer to take him into your home is not just a matter of protecting property. It is a matter of protecting your own life. That might not seem as noble as the objective of protecting your wife, but it is important to her and to a lot of other people, as well as to God (Who gives you the right of self-defense).

It is sad that we must all consider the awful stories that we hear of random violence, where evil is returned for good. But the fact is that doing so is wisdom. And for whatever flaws this man may have had, he may be wiser than you are. At least in regard to prudence.

JD said...

While healthy caution is prudent, planning as if each person you don't know is a killer looking to cut your throat certainly isn't healthy either. While senseless bizarre killings do happen, living your entire life to try to avoid those relatively rare events would keep you from giving and receiving so much good.

I believe I could have prudently taken this stranger into my home without much risk to my life. From looking at him I was certainly stronger and quicker than he. If just the physical difference weren't enough my ownership of a very big dog that sleeps in my room and a firearm would certainly provide another layer of safety.

Absolute safety? No. But absolute safety is an illusion, even when we leave strangers out in the cold. If we aim for risk-free life we wouldn't ever enter any bond with our fellow man.