All That We Are

by Hazel Sloan

"It's ninety-six degrees with one hundred percent humidity," the weather forecaster announced. I turned off the TV, wondering if the hot temperature would disrupt my rest during the night.

I awakened with a start. It was 5:45 a.m. "My, how quickly the morning comes," I commented to Bob, my husband, as I slowly got out of bed and prayed my usual morning prayer" Thank you, God, for keeping me from all harm and danger as I slept. God, please help me guard my actions and words so I will not increase another person's pain today."

A normal twelve-minute ride to work took one half hour. As Bob attempted to make the usual left turn off Seventh to get on Sixth, the sign read, "street closed." I shifted in my seat, complained of the inconvenience, heat, and discourteous drivers who were blasting their horns at us for moving so slowly through the construction zone.

As I stepped from the car, Bob told me to have a good day and that he would pick my up at 5:15 p.m. "You, too," I said.

I swung my briefcase and my purse over my shoulder and headed for the office. I mentally calculated the number of interviews and meetings I had scheduled. It was hot and muggy and I remembered thinking that in a few short minutes I would be in air conditioning. I could hardly wait!

Just as I was turning the corner, three men staggered toward me. I remember thinking that 7:15 a.m. was too early to be drinking — much less be drunk. One of the men called out, "Hey, 'corprit' lady, give us a dollar to buy some coffee!" He attempted to grab my shoulder strap. I tried to step aside to avoid him and accidentally bumped into his friend, who in turn bumped him, causing both to fall. My morning prayer flashed through my mind, "God, please help me guard my actions and my words so I will not increase another person's pain today." At that moment, I made eye contact with the third man who was wavering on unsteady legs. He was laughing and taunting his friends about their predicament. The stench of liquor and urine, mingled with the hot, muggy air made me nauseated.

Realizing I would be unable to help them to their feet, I reached into my pocket and found a dollar and a half to give my conscience a quick fix and handed it to the man. "Bhless you, 'corprit' lady, we don't like this condishun either," he slurred. I ran across the intersection, through the outer doors, up the stairs, flashed my I.D. at the guard, and entered the safety and comfort of my office. As I glanced out the window, I wondered what life experiences reduced those men to their present state of existence. Why wasn't getting high on religion and education an option?

The morning was filled with many client demands, questions, and verbalized frustrations from co-workers regarding the weather, amount of work to be done, and life in general. I took a brief, brisk walk to clear my head and to get an "attitude adjustment." While walking, I ran into an acquaintance. We exchanged greetings and discovered we were out walking at that early hour for the same reason. She went on to tell me how uneasy and intimidated she felt walking in the downtown area due to all the panhandlers, hustlers, and poor people.

As we turned the corner near our workplaces, we noticed a man with one leg sitting beside a building. Although the hot sun was beating down on him, he appeared to be comfortable and patient. People would walk up close to him and bend down. He would say, "Thank you and God will bless you."

"What is going on?" I asked my acquaintance. "He isn't asking for anything. Why are those people going up to him?"

"I've seen him sitting there before," she said. "You are right. He doesn't verbally beg, but his very presence offends me. A lot of people are worse off than he is and they have a job."

There was something about the man's appearance, voice, and silent charisma that caused me to freeze in my tracks. He addressed my acquaintance as she attempted to walk away. He said, "Lady, beggars have dignity!" At that moment I realized people had been handing him money. He continued, "May God have mercy on you. Lady, you beg every day at work. You are constantly begging someone to see your worth — to see how good, how valuable you are. You will always beg at work because you feel you are not being fully rewarded for your contributions. You will never measure up to humankind's standards. Lady, in all your fine clothes, don' t you know if you are not living up to Christ's teachings, you are living below standards anyway. Your beautiful car and home may satisfy you now, but when you die, you will leave all you have and take with you all that you are. Lady, who are you?" Although he spoke quietly, several people had stopped to listen.

I stared at the man wondering, who he was, where he came from, what happened to his leg, and what he laughed and cried about? His voice was clear and strong. He appeared to be a humble man. I just knew he was a spiritual, praying, and gentle man.

I did not want to return to work. My inquisitive mind was hungry for more information from this man. He grinned and said, "Give me a smile, sister; it might be the only gift you can share with somebody, and I know I would appreciate it. God bless you."

I will never be the same again because of this man. I received more than an "attitude adjustment" on that walk. I received a blessing and a message that has challenged me to live and walk the faith journey that leads to the eternal reward. Thank God for giving me ears to hear and eyes to see his servant teaching in the most unexpected place and unusual time — the right time.

Hazel Sloan is a member of Community Covenant Church in Minneapolis.

See all articles by Hazel Sloan