Saturday, June 6, 2009

ladies and gentleman, i am sorry to disturb you...

Earlier this week, I was extremely blessed to watch the gospel be presented to a crowded train with merely kind words and a hand-shake.   It was just an ordinary day...

Wohoo!  It's Thursday and I am done for the week!  Well, not technically, but I am off to Texas in the morning and I am feeling footloose and fancy free.  I have my favorite seat on the train- first car, first door, first row.  Ahhh....
Then I hear words familiar to every New Yorker: "Ladies and Gentleman, I am sorry to disturb you..."  Oh brother.  Here we go, again.  Someone panhandling for money on the train.   I glance up briefly, careful not to make eye contact.  I recognize the man.  He's one of the older beggars, for lack of a better word, that frequent my train at rush hour.  Today, he was in unusually high spirits.  He not only gave his usual speech, but he also informed us that he will be turning 68 in a few days.  Super, I thought.  As he started to make his way towards the front of the train, I searched for something to occupy me.  Heaven forbid I just look like I'm calloused and don't want to help.  I need to look busy- like I didn't hear what he has been booming for the last five minutes.  Sounds plausible to me.  I quickly find a DVD that I borrowed and begin to read the summary on the back like it's a letter that contains the answers to all of my problems.  Phew, just in time.  As he passes by me, I affirm my decision to ignore him.  It is illegal to ask for money on the train.  I am just being a good citizen.  Besides, I don't even have any cash.  Well, I mean, besides my wallet full of change to support my coke habit.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see a man tap the beggar on the shoulder and offer him a few dollars.  The beggar turns around to accept, and what happened next made me hang my head in shame.
"Oh my goodness!  It's so good to see you!  I haven't seen you in a while, I was afraid you had moved," the beggar exclaimed.  As he turned to accept the money, he had recognized the giver.  It was a very well dressed man in his 60's.  He looked like a cross between Ralph Lauren and Daniel Craig.  Seriously.  "Oh no, I've been around, " the man said.   He seemed shy, but genuinely glad to see his old friend.  They continued to chat.  The man asked the beggar if he was still on the streets.  "No," he replied, "I got a small place way out in Brooklyn.  Things have gotten much better.  Hey- I'm about to turn 68!  I don't know why this one means so much, but I feel like I've really made it."  As they continued to talk, they transformed from a beggar and rich man into two old friends catching up.  This man has a life.  He has hopes, dreams, struggles.  This had never crossed my mind before.  And with that realization, I began to cry.  At the next stop, the beggar got off the train; but not before a handshake and final goodbyes were exchanged.  
For the rest of the train ride, I pondered this man.  He seemed so ordinary- and yet, so completely extraordinary at the same time.  Later, a quartet boarded the train.  As they made their way to the front of the train, I eyed this mystery man.  Busy with his iPhone, he didn't even seem to notice their presence. he did use my tricks after all!  I knew he had been too good to be true.  So, he had picked out one beggar in all of Manhattan to be nice to.  Big deal.  I could do that.  All of a sudden, at the last moment, the man pushed his way through several un-amused riders and dropped a few dollars in their basket.  This time, no kind words- no "how've you been?"  Now, I wasn't only curious...I was intrigued.  I quickly made a plan to engage this man in conversation.  But would I be able to pull it off?  I sure hoped so.  
A few stops later, the first and most important element of my plan completed itself.  The man exited the train at my stop.  The rest was easy.  I would position myself next to him on the escalator, and we would chat to the top, say farwell, and be on our way.  However, I hadn't anticipated the complication that arose next.  This "man" was not completely human.  He bounded up the escalator (who does that?  the escalator does the walking for you...that's the beauty of it) at lightening speed and proceeded to walk, neigh- run, like he was being followed by pitbulls and he had beef jerky in his pocket.  I finally caught up with him a block and a half later.  You see, I was carrying my cake tin, a bag full of clothes from the amazingly generous Angela Brittain, and my too-large-for-my-own-good purse.  Needless to say, when I finally got his attention I was not only the creepy girl who followed him from the train- I was the creepy out-of-breath girl who could barely form a sentence.  This was not going as planned.  
"Sir!" I panted.  The man did not hear me.  "Siirr!!" I said a little louder.  The man turned and eyed me curiously- still moving at warp speed.  Here it goes:"I was on the train with you and I was wondering if I could ask you a question."  The man looked cautious, but not snobby.  "Okay," he said tentatively.  I began, shaky at first, "I was watching you with that man and I was did you develop a relationship with him?"  Oh, this is what you wanted to know about- he seemed to think.  His face relaxed a little and he responded, "Well, I've seen him on and off for about the last two years, and I just started giving him money whenever I saw him."  Sounds ordinary enough, I thought.  I continued, "oh.  well, I also saw you give money to the quartet that passed by, but you didn't exchange any words- do you try and give money to everyone or do you have a few that you talk to?"  He didn't hesistate before saying the words that have stuck with me since that moment, "Well, I try to give money to anyone I see who is in need.  I have been given a lot.  I would like to take them to get food, but I can't.  Because- what I don't have is time.  But I do have money, so I try to give to those in need."  Ah, the insane speed we were walking at was starting to make sense- it was also starting to make my legs cramp.  I braced myself before asking my final question, "Can I ask you one more thing?" He nodded.  "Are you a Christian?"  I wasn't sure I wanted to hear the answer.  You see, this man had acted more like Christ in 5 minutes on the train, than I have in the last 5 months.  As I sat in my favorite seat, thinking my Pharisee-like thoughts, he was living out the gospel.  What if he didn't even know what that was?  My heart would break in two.  But, I'd thought about myself enough for one day obviously.   "Yes, I am," he said.  It was time for me to turn onto my street so I said, "As another Christian, I just wanted to let you know that we should all be doing what you are doing.  I was convicted by your awesome display of Christ's love on the train.  I wanted to let you know that you blessed someone other than that man today- and, hopefully, in turn- I will be able to bless others because of it."  He slowed down for the first time since exiting the train and said, "Thank you.  Thank you very much." 

"30In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.  36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" 37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." Luke 10:30-37 (NIV)

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  1. what a powerful story, my friend. thank you for sharing with us!! thank you for taking the time and making the extra effort to affirm the man that represented Christ in flesh. what a good reminder.

    have a safe and fun trip! see you when you get back. :)

  2. Thanks for sharing. I want to be like that...I love you for your courage to pursue that conversation.

  3. Really really beautiful Murph. What a great display of Christ's love in our very own city!

  4. Great story, Murph. That would be a great story to share at the Core Community gathering when we talk about living out our merciful mission in the city.

  5. Murph, I was glued to the story! I can't believe you chased that guy, that's awesome!!!!!! I wish I'd been on that adventure with you. God is so amazing! If you're not afraid to chase a man on the street, then you're certainly not afraid to move into a new apartment.

  6. Murph, I was so encouraged to read that you are seeking the Lord! I wonder about many of our friends from college and I'm so excited to see that you are keeping the faith. I'm praying the Lord will draw near to you and reveal Himself to you in ways He never has before! Let's catch up sometime.

  7. Murph- you have grown into a special woman. I am extremely proud of you and what an awesome writer you are! That story should be published somewhere....

  8. I am crying a little--I'm glad you let him know. I think that kind of encouragement is something we so rarely see--we would so many of us probably be such better Christians if we could more often see the ripple effect our good actions can have!