Just tonight I watched her walk, hand-in-hand with her mother up the crowded downtown city street. Traffic rushed past without notice. Her spindly legs seemed barely able to support her small frame. So fragile, I waited for the wind to whisk her away. She must have been all of 6-years-old ... faded cotton dress ... ragged little tennis shoes ... a pair of much too large glasses. A huge Barbie Doll backpack with the look of having arrived from some "in-touch" charity drive was draped across her small shoulders and somehow did not fall to the ground. Her mother appeared homeless or at least lost on the streets. Maybe they were headed to the bus station or possibly to one of the family shelters.
I couldn't tell.
But I saw her.
I really saw her.
She begins her life far behind the curve set by kids like my grandchildren.
This little girl has little chance in this country of ever "making it."
Will she finish high school? What are her chances for college?
When will she become a mother herself?
I wondered about her current health and her health care options.
Where would she sleep tonight?
Would she ever be truly safe?
Where were the boundaries of her world when it comes to love, affection, opportunity?
Did she know her daddy? Did he know her? I didn't like the obvious answers that came to me instinctively.
For some reason as I watched this unremarkable pair walk the street, I thought of the church and its members and its leaders--me. I thought of a thousand books I'd read dealing with some grand thought or seemingly priceless theological or psychological nuance that was meant to "help me" do better, feel better, get on better. I thought of all the Sunday School classes and all the sermons and all the seminars and all the praise and worship times and sessions and trainings. I remembered countless learning opportunities.
I considered all of my "advantage". And I realized in that one defining moment on that downtown block as I drove home after a day in my pampered world that all of it was rubbish, worthless, foolish, a horrible waste--an illusion and worse, a delusion. For all the claims, most of the essential, highly regarded stuff of my world is simply not true.
That one little first grade girl and her life and her mom--that is true and more, the life I caught a glimpse of today is the only truth that really matters.
The game is far, far from fair and just and livable. And, of course, I know it is much, much worse elsewhere even in my city, not to mention the vast, teeming Third World.
This fact causes me problems with "business as usual" faith, serious problems.
One thing I do know: all my advantage with its vast world of words and ideas has done nothing to prepare me for handling the ultimate, undeniable truth delivered to my heart this evening by one tiny little creature stumbling along down a very busy, unknowing city street.
[I wrote this reflection several years ago.]