Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap tap. I saw him in the rear view mirror approaching and am fumbling now, trying to find the right change and some food. I know there is some food in here somewhere I’m thinking to myself as I rifle through my big “mom” bag stocked with water bottles and snacks for our trip to the museum. Peripherally, I can see him still standing there next to my car, he raps on the window a little harder and a bit franticly as the window of opportunity for a hand out gets smaller as time ticks on the red stoplight ahead. I quickly look up at the stoplight, there is a countdown in red next to that little light and it currently says 36 seconds until the light turns green. “Hurry Mom, the light’s going to turn green.” I hear from the backseat. I don’t reply, I know it and I feel the urgency to give this man something to eat and something to keep him warm. All I can find are my $1 gloves, a few rmb and an apple that was intended for our morning snack today. I turn to the window and thankfully he is still there. I look the Asian man right in the eye as I roll the window down. He quickly looks at the ground and begins to nod his head up and down, a sign of humbleness and unworthiness in this culture. I use both hands to hand him this “gift”, (using two hands is important in this culture- it is a symbol of respect) what I hand him is not much mind you, I feel embarrassed to even give it to him. But I think it’s better than nothing and I don’t know what he will receive today and what he will be allowed to keep. It is said that the majority of people on the streets begging here are either pimped to do it or have been disabled with that purpose in mind. (blinded, disfigured, etc) The food and gloves wouldn’t be taken away from him, although the money might be. As he takes my small offering, he looks at me and I look at him, right in the eyes we look at each other for what feels like 10 minutes but in reality was only seconds and I see the laugh lines up by his eyes, and the scar on his cheek. I wonder briefly what this man has laughed about recently and what has made him cry and how the scar got there. Was he a child or an adult when it happened? Did the gray hair come before or after he had children? I know mine came after.
Then, I tell him boldly that he is made in the image of God and that God loves him and that I hope this gift helps him today and please don’t forget that Jesus loves you. He thanks me quickly and all of this in a 36 second encounter at a red stoplight that too quickly turned green.
I drive on, but I see him in my rearview mirror limping to the side of the road, looking after our car with a look of confusion, joy and wonder, then sitting down and taking a bite of his apple. And his eyes haunt me all afternoon. I can’t forget them. I can’t forget the humanity of them. I wonder, “Whose grandfather is he?” “Whose husband has he been?” Will he ever be reunited with a family that embraces him and laughs with him? Cries with him? Will his wife ever again run her fingers over that scar and know the story behind it? See, here there are a lot of men, women, and children who are taken from their homes, disabled in some way and for various reasons put out on the street to beg for food, clothing, money to eat. Very few people ever stop and nobody ever speaks to them. They are the downcast, the downtrodden, the looked down upon portion of society. They are lumped together and (I am guilty of this too) not seen as individual human beings who have had dreams and plans, hopes and sorrows. But the humanity in this humble man’s eyes will change my perspective forever. All I had to give today was an apple planned for our snack time, some change and some really cheap gloves from Target but what I received back was a tremendous burden to play a bigger part in humanizing some of the social justice issues that are so prevalent here in this country and in our world. Today, I encountered an opportunity to change my perspective. . . and judging from the view in my rearview mirror. . . maybe his too.