He approaches me at the bus stop when all I want to do is go home
and be left in peace. He offers me a furtive smile, and sits down a
little too close.
On the other end of the bench, his girlfriend lies prostrate,
sobbing uncontrollably. She’s at least six inches taller than him,
decked out in goth regalia, her lips painted blood red. She sports a
Led Zeppelin T-shirt, a band that broke up long before anyone even
thought of conceiving her. Clutching at her stomach, she moans, sobs
and shakes while her boyfriend comes over to talk to me. All I am is
tired, and I don’t want any part of this.
“Can you come sit by us, mate?” he pleads. “My girlfriend is really
upset. She just had her second miscarriage.” The words hit me like a
blow to the gut. Second miscarriage? Good grief. By the looks of her,
she can’t be out of her teens.
I want nothing less than to go sit by this domestic sideshow. Still,
I sidle up next to them as the boy tries to console his crying
girlfriend. She yells at him to leave her alone, and he leans in to
talk to me.
“We’re too young to have a baby, aye?” What in particular would make
me an authority on that? Still, I ask him how old they are. He’s 18,
she’s 16. And this is their second miscarriage. They should be worrying
about report cards and school formals. Instead, they’re dealing with
the termination of a life.
“It’s a blessing in disguise, aye? We’re too young,” he says, again
seeking wisdom I don’t feel I have to offer. I can’t even stammer out a
hackneyed platitude to help. I’m utterly without words for the
situation. If I feel anything it’s a mild irritation at the fact that I
moved to New Zealand to absorb beauty, and I’ve been thrust against my
will face to face with the ugliness of reality. “Why me?” I keep
wondering. “Why ask a total stranger at a bus stop to sit shiva with
you?” The boy keeps leaning over to try to comfort his girlfriend,
apologizing over and over for getting her pregnant. Again. She keeps
yelling that she wants to be left alone. I keep checking my watch,
begging for the bus to come. I think of telling him to leave her be for
right now. Just let her cry. Instead, I sit next to him in silence.
Mercifully, the bus arrives, but to my horror, they ask me to sit
with them there as well. I oblige, and do my best to make it seem like
it’s not a problem. Like I don’t mind connecting myself to the anguish
of these strangers. The boy keeps asking my advice, and I wait for my
pastoral instinct to kick in. Wait for the words of wisdom and
encouragement I’m so used to offering friends in difficult situations.
They never come. Instead, we talk about music. It’s the only subject I
feel qualified for right now. He thanks me over and over for sitting
with them, tells me he likes me. I’m a good guy. I don’t feel like such
a good guy when I’ve been viewing their catastrophe as nothing more
than an obstacle to my own relaxation. They needed a big brother. They
got an impatient commuter, too self-absorbed to deal with the hassle
It’s amazing how easy empathy is from a distance. Kids far too young
for the dirty reality of surprise pregnancies and painful miscarriages
experience these things all the time, and my heart breaks for them when
they’re not sitting next to me on the bus. Why is it so hard to live
out my faith when humanity in all of its ugliness is staring me in the
face? I have no problem offering heartfelt financial support for
organizations that deal with situations like this. Why is it that when
God offers me an opportunity to show His love in a practical way, all I
want is to be left alone? I find I fail time and time again when I am
so obviously being called to be Jesus to those right in front of me.
The sad fact is, distant acts of macro-charity will always be
easier. As much as we’re told that money has its hold on society, time
and empathy are the real commodities people are unwilling to part with.
We’re all for helping the broken and downtrodden, just not on our ride
home after a long day.
The life Jesus actually calls us to, by contrast, is much messier
than buying a cause-driven T-shirt or sending money to a nonprofit
organization. It’s one that gets down in the muck of the human
experience and lives with the people there. It shares the pain of the
widow and the orphan, the oppressed and unlovable. This life is not
something Jesus suggested. It’s something He mandated.
While supporting global causes is both necessary and noble, we can’t
be self-satisfied in our efforts if we ignore the hurting people around
us. Ending the AIDS crisis in Africa is not only worthwhile, it is
imperative. But what about those living with AIDS in our own
communities? Am I being naive in believing we can make a difference
locally without sacrificing our concern globally? The ultimate question
is, will we take a risk to put a face to the problems we give lip
I hope the next time I’m offered the chance to show the love of
Christ, I won’t be so self-centered as to only recognize it in
hindsight. In my attitude, if not my actions, I failed those kids on
the bus. However, I know God continues to bring me in contact day after
day with people who need to see His love. May we all seek opportunities
to sacrifice things more valuable than money.