One of my personal struggles as I go through my social work program has been how insensitive those of the conservative right can be, how unwilling they seem to be to look upon the pitied and the despised to search for the humanity in them, and to take compassion on them.
I’m sure part of this stems from the way my own family has struggled to see the humanity in my situation as I have come out. To this day I have not told my story of coming out to myself and my spiritual reconciliation to my parents. They believe that my spiritual reconciliation over being gay was deception from the adversary. Clearly, they’re not ready to hear my story.
What has irked me even more is the claim the conservative right makes to Christianity, when I feel that many beliefs and practices of conservatives directly contradict the teachings of Christ. How can they so blatantly look upon the poor and the needy, the struggling and the outcast, and feel justified by their faith to pass them by? Why can’t they see that those who struggle are just like them? “There, but for the grace of God, go I!” When we can honestly see others that way, then we can act with compassion and see the true humanity in others.
At least, that’s what I thought. Until I met a man on the bus yesterday.
I hopped on the bus in the morning determined to hit the gym and break this streak of not working out that I had slipped into. The day had begun well enough, and I was determined to be productive. The bus was packed, but I wormed my way into a spot near the front where I could stand without hitting anyone with my backpack.
Sitting in front of me was an older man with a cane and a set of laminated cards in his hand. He was babbling incoherently to a man dressed in nurse’s scrubs on his left, and my first thought was that he had a mental disability. When I looked at the cards in his hand, the ones he was pointing to as he grunted to the nurse, I suddenly understood. The top card read:
I am deaf and blind. Please assist me by taking this card and returning it to me when we reach the location indicated below.
Bus Route: Metro 48
Destination: UW Hospital
I could suddenly hear the worry in the sounds he was making. He wasn’t sure that he was on the right bus, or when he should get off. The nurse was trying to tell him that he was going to the hospital as well, and that he would let him know when they arrived. The older man didn’t seem satisfied, but he stopped trying to communicate with him.
He must not have been completely blind, because he turned his face to me, and began motioning to me and trying to get me to understand through his gibberish. I nodded, and told him, “He’s going there too. We’ll let you know when we’re there.” As I spoke I pointed to the old man, then to the card, then to the nurse and the card. Finally, I pointed back and forth several times to the old man and the nurse, then to the card. The older man’s face changed, and he understood. I could tell by his posture that he was still slightly concerned, but he knew that we understood him and that we would help.
We arrived at the stop, and the three of us got off the bus. I watched him and the nurse walk away, and I turned the other way toward the gym.
This man had struck me. I had never met someone who was both blind and deaf. One of my first impressions had been that this was the sort of man that Christ would have approached, to touch his fingers to his eyes and ears and heal him. How could people seriously see a man like this, someone that would have claimed the attention of the Son of God himself, and not find some compassion for him? “There, but for the grace of God, go I!”
As this thought went through me, I suddenly felt the faultiness within it. This mindset was still incorrect. There, but for the grace of God, go I? I realized that this very phrase still carried the idea that one was privileged, and the other oppressed. One had been granted the grace of God, while another had not. This was a phrase of pity, and pity only exists if one views himself higher than another.
I felt like the Pharisee who when praying in the temple said, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.”
There, but for the grace of God, go I. Who’s to say that I am the one who has received the grace of God? How am I to know that this man did not think as he walked away “Thank God that I cannot see and cannot hear, because unlike the masses I am not blind or deaf to that which is truly valuable”?
Surely, had Christ approached this man he would not have pitied him. He would have had compassion. And compassion only works between equals. There, but for the grace of God, go I? No. There go I. That’s it.
Each of us is faced with the difficulty of this life. Some bear the burden of bodies that do not function. Some bear the burden of poverty. Some, the burden of wealth. Some spend their lives being abused and treated as though they were worthless. Some are cursed or abandoned because of who they love. Regardless of what our individual crosses may be each of us approaches the throne of God with the same absolute need for grace. We are all beggars before the Lord. And each of us has claim on the God who walked among men, healing with compassion, not with pity.
So this man, blind and deaf? There go I. That woman on welfare with three children to feed? There go I. That wealthy man, conservative to the core? There go I. My family, unable or unwilling to see my struggles and to accept all of me for who I am? There go I.
It is not for me to decide who has been granted the grace of God, only to see those around me as fellow bus travelers, each trying the best we can to make it to the end of the route.