Wednesday, July 26, 1995

I Missed It

I stood at the top of the Civic Center steps, looking down. My eye fastened on a man in the street, walking toward the sidewalk at the base of the steps. His face bore more wrinkles than are usually found in a man his age; his right hand clutched a cane; and when he walked he looked "duckish." Rather than the smooth, confident gait usual to humans, his walk seemed complicated.

He would put his cane down, lift his left leg and slowly wobble it forward. Then, putting his weight on his left leg and the cane, he would swing his right leg forward. Finally, he brought his cane forward so it was even with his legs.

Not being a physician, I could not tell exactly what was wrong with his body. All I knew was that he looked dangerously near toppling every time he took a step. I subconsciously feared he would trip when he tried to climb onto the curb.

At that moment, a choice loomed before me. I could go down the steps and offer assistance to the man, as a "still, small voice" was nagging me; or I could pop back into my cozy, calloused, selfish shell. I picked the latter, reasoning, "He probably doesn't really want help, or he'd ask someone to assist him." In an attempt to mute my conscience, I turned my back to the curb and looked at the people exiting the Civic Center. The homeschooling convention had just ended, and people were gradually returning to their vehicles. I also glanced at the clouds; the sky was unusually stormy, for Phoenix.

I turned around again, first looking at the stately skyscrapers, then allowing my eyes to settle down upon the infirm, but determined, man. He had managed to step onto the sidewalk; but now, instead of turning and walking down it as I had hoped, he was struggling up the steps!

And yet I remained unmoving, still too comfortable to go down to help him up. The fellow probably would have toiled up the steps alone if there had not been so many homeschoolers around.

A handsome couple walked up behind him as he straddled the third and fourth steps.

The husband touched the older man's shoulder. "Do you need some help?" he asked earnestly. His wife said something too, but from where I stood I could not hear the actual words she used; but I could make out the tone of her voice, and it was gentle.

Apparently the crippled man wanted help, for the younger man took his left elbow, and I have no doubt that his wife would have taken the other if the older man had not held his cane with his right hand.

So the odd combination of a man with youth, comeliness, and strength with a man who now had none of those labored up the steps. The wife waited on the sidewalk, gazing steadily at the two men above her. Hers was a look of neither impatience nor pride; her eyes conveyed no hint of the "now we've done our good deed for the day" mentality. Instead, I saw there unadulterated admiration for her husband and wholehearted compassion for the disabled man.

The men made it to the top, and since the older man apparently needed no help on level ground, he thanked the younger man and continued walking alone. The young husband went down the steps, and though he did not hurry, he went down ten times faster than he had just ascended.

When he reached his wife, she turned around and together the two walked away wordlessly. As they did, the wife put her arm around her husband's back; it remained there as the couple disappeared around a corner.

A few minutes later my parents and I left the Civic Center, for home. I had not truly thought much about what I had done, or more accurately, had not done. Though I certainly had noticed what had happened, I had not absorbed it yet. When we left, the memory of the disabled man did not project itself in my mind above the memory of the skyscrapers or the convention.

But a few miles later, the Holy Spirit sounded his bugle of conviction about half an inch from my ear and I awoke. I had missed a tremendous chance to put Christian character into practice. I had failed to show compassion. Given the scripture I'd been memorizing, that was pathetic: "If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfill ye my joy that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind ... Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." (Phil. 2:1-2, 4)

Another scripture was illuminated, too. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that when we show kindness to the "least of these," we have shown kindness to Him. Thus, in missing an opportunity to help a man, I had missed Him.