Someday I hope to be able to always look up in any circumstance. The idea came to me after reading a blog by fellow writer and nature photographer Jack McLeod. In the blog, Jack wrote of a soul provoking Christmas present from his daughter: 52 weeks of challenges, the first of which was to simply "look up". Jack's looking up involved his reflection in word and photo and deed.
Perhaps it was his blog...perhaps it was the photos from his time of "looking up" included here, but something in those two words ruminated in my head like a brain worm, sort of a background whisper to the start of my day.
That start included a morning meeting in a nearby town, so I located a French bakery for treats to add to our sharing of tea and conversation. Perusing the delicacies, I contemplated what I could bring for my long awaited chat session with my friend. Turning away from the fruit custard tarts and sixteen layer cakes, I directed my attention to the pastries, so light and airy I could feel the flakes falling on my shirt. A young woman took my order, and as she prepared it, I stood transfixed by the array of sweets, fighting the desire to buy one of each.
Then I heard Jack's challenge in my head..."Look up." I turned my gaze towards the small courtyard outside where frost still dusted the concrete from the previous night. The twenty degree weather was still clinging to the air as I caught a motion out of the corner of my eye. There next to a small tree stood a young man and a young woman cramming their sleeping bags into plastic bags and then into a small shopping cart. I knew immediately that the frost covered concrete of the small patio had been their mattress for the night and imagined what the night must have been like, as we had experienced a prolonged cold spell. Immediately, a whisper began in my head, “Buy them breakfast."
I could feel The Whisper's strength, but equally strong were the voices against the plan. The line was long, a meeting awaited for which I was already late...the list of reasons forming in my head drowned out The Whisper. I picked up my order at the sound of my name and headed to the car, and as I opened the car door, The Whisper's strength in my head increased. And so did the litany of excuses.
I could go to Safeway and buy some coffees and pastries...but that would take too much time.
What if I came back with all the food and no one was there anymore?
What if I came back and they were violent when I offered breakfast?
Finally, I realized that I would not get peace until I just listened to The Whisper, so I called my friend, simply letting her know I would be late and that it was a Holy Spirit thing.
When I returned, the voices began again:
What if they are gone?
What if you get robbed?
What if they are mentally ill?
But the choice was the same: listen and follow or be haunted by the missed opportunity.
I rounded the corner walking into the small courtyard and placed the coffee and rolls in their hands along with some money for lunch. I introduced myself and shook their hands.
"It cannot have been easy to sleep outside last night," I offered as they introduced themselves.
"It's a good spot," he replied, "a safe place."
"At least we're together," she added.
I asked them what led them to be sleeping outside that night, and they both shared a simple story which is probably common to many in this situation. I let them know about the local missions, but I knew that a couple devoted to each other would be split up from each other. Thinking of my own husband and protector, I understood that being with someone you love and who cares for you sometimes trumps everything.
We talked in the cold, and then, as they readied to leave, we hugged each other and went our ways.
This is not a story to highlight a generosity of spirit on my part. It is a story to show you what a rusty heart looks like, one that is illustrated in the photo of my friend Jack. My heart knows The Whisper and from where it comes, but the human side of me living in fear of the unknown and of connection has thousands of reasons not to act.
Every whisper that compels me towards the Light is met with resistance. And I would love to tell you that with practice, reaching out becomes easier. But in reality, I have learned the battle never changes, nor does it get any easier. The only thing that changes is that now, I am starting to recognize The Whisper more quickly, though I rage against it as I seek a path of selfishness and isolation.
Two people who slept on concrete in the cold welcomed me like an old friend that day. They had no hesitation and no fear. They hugged with reckless abandonment. And, as always, they taught me the poverty of my own spirit.
Someday, I hope to have learned the lesson well enough that the battle is gone. But that is a someday that, I think, awaits me only in heaven.