I was visiting a large city for a conference and decided to go out for a morning walk. A scruffy man was walking toward me and I forgot that I wasn’t in the Dakotas and gave him a cheery, “Good Morning!” He stopped and said, “Thank you and good morning to you.” I was feeling quite good about myself that I’d greeted this man who must be in need. But I’d only made a couple steps and he said, “Sir, a minute of your time.” What did I do? I switched into big city mode and said, “Sorry” and continued my walk. I knew he wanted more than my time and I wasn’t going to give money to someone who might just use it for alcohol or something else.
Later that day I was in the downtown area and I was following a couple that had several plastic bags with Styrofoam meal holders. I was thinking, my they must be hungry to be carrying all that food. But God slapped me on the back of the head and said, ‘Pay attention.’ The food was not for them. It was given person by person to people along the street who were begging for money or had signs in need of food. They were ordinary people, like me, that took the time and stepped through the excuses to reach out.
My last trip to Haiti I felt myself, at times, pulling away. Not physically, but mentally. I realize now that I was shielding myself from more suffering that I couldn’t do much or anything about. A speaker I heard recently, Molly Hough said, “We are able to turn away from suffering. We just change the channel or page down from what we don’t want to see.”
I have other stories where I “changed the channel or paged down” from an opportunity to help. So how do we balance the need and ability to reach out with being suffocated by suffering?
My buddy and interpreter in Haiti, Mr. B, always says to me, “Friend, your arm reaches only as far as it can.” But I will always struggle with missed opportunities and turning away from suffering.