Tuesday, August 20, 2013


A few years ago, I was sitting at my wife's desk waiting to take her out for lunch.  She was a therapist at an elementary school, and was away somewhere on the campus dealing with whatever she dealt with.  I watched the children passing by her open door on their way to the cafeteria.  Each child or group of children streaming by became framed for a moment by the doorway as snapshots of the human race.  It was all of us coursing before my eyes that noon: the flamboyant, the timid, the tough, the haughty, the humble, the weak, the contemplative, the playful, the scared, the invincible, the popular, the marginalized, the swindler, the wheeler and dealer, the politician, the bully, the picked-on, the predator, and the prey.  There we are, I thought.

Then I sat up a little because a small boy--maybe eight or nine years old--drifted through my view, wearing out in the open what all the others were concealing.  There were elements of despair and worry in his face; yet none of these quite described what I witnessed in that little shaver.  In fact, those descriptors--even though accurate at one level--are too easily spoken--too glib.  If they were all one saw in that little guy at that moment, then one would completely miss the profound impression I'm trying to convey. No, he was lost; but lost in the deepest sense.

It was quite evident that he had found himself up against a high, blank, and impenetrable wall.  He knew something lay on the other side, and he knew he needed to get there in order to survive.  But he had looked up and looked to his right and looked to his left, and all he saw was featureless gray.  He no longer thought of going back.  The little lad had come to a point where there were no answers.  It was as if his tender mind simply shrugged its shoulders and told him, "I don't know."  The boy was lost.

When my wife returned, she saw my eyes had welled with tears.  After I explained what I had seen, she said, "Oh, yes, he is one of my students,  He lost his lunch box."

We don't often have such an open window to our selves as I had that day in my wife's school.  I wouldn't see that little light again until sometime later when it reappeared in a woman.

I was waiting for my girls--as I am wont to do--outside a department store when I spied a solitary, middle aged woman walking away from the store.  All she was carrying was her purse; the scene was quite ordinary.  What caused me pause, though, was the manner by which she held her purse.  Her bag had nothing to distinguish it.  As I recall, it was plain and perhaps a bit worn; I don't even remember its color, except that it was monotone.  Yet she carried the purse as if she were carrying her self.  She was clearly lost in the same deep sense as the little chap back at school was lost.

Everyday, millions and millions of people tote around their purses, backpacks, and bags.  If a robber were to snatch a bag from one of these people, you know he or she would get mad--and rightly so; the person might even go after the thief.  But after it was all over, the victim would simply go out and buy new stuff.  This was not the impression that lone woman left me with.  If someone were to suddenly lift her purse, I'm convinced she would end up standing there where it happened in exactly the same state as that little boy had found himself. She would be paralyzed by a hopelessness she couldn't understand.  She wouldn't see her self as a victim--only as one without recourse or options or explanation.  To take something from someone else is wrong; to take that poor woman's purse would be an inscrutable cruelty that would leave her devastated.  And the bleak sadness in this is she wouldn't be able to articulate her devastation because she is lost.

Two people afforded me two glimpses into all of us.  We are all lost just as I have described here.  We are a race in denial.  We are experts at hiding our selves from our selves.  We are all like those with iTunes(R) blaring in their ears in order to drown out themselves in those unwelcome silences.  We are a people without hope until we are willing to quiet the white-noise and finally meet our selves.  We cannot really help each other, either; unless we are willing to look beyond the smoke and mirrors--clever and intimidating as they often are--and see each other as God sees us: the little guy without his lunch pail, the lonely woman clutching her purse.  And when we do that, let us turn back to God; the only one who holds the answers, who finds the lost, who leads the way out, and who genuinely loves us.

"When Jesus saw the crowds, he was filled with compassion concerning them, because they were distressed and sunk powerless like sheep without a shepherd.  Then [Jesus] said to His disciples, "The harvest is great, but the workers are few.  Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest so that He might cast out workers for His harvest (Matt. 9:36-38)."

And on another occasion:

"After He heard this [i.e., about the execution and burial of John the Baptist], Jesus departed from there by boat to a deserted place by himself.  And after the crowds learned this, they followed after Him on foot from the towns.  And after He came out, Jesus saw the populous crowd and was filled with compassion for them, and He healed their sick (Matt. 14:13-14)."

Oh, and by the way, my wife made sure her bewildered little charge had lunch that day.