When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Author of ‘The Wounded Healer’
Reading: They Crossed a Street Together, Jim Klobuchar
Six-thirty is not a bad time to be walking the city street. It reveals more to the stroller when it is quiet, because it gives him room and time to focus on what is happening and to notice the two people across the street.
One is walking in the intersection, a young woman of about twenty, wearing a plain beige topcoat, and hatless. The breeze tosses strands of hair over her eyes, and these she tries to dislodge by flinging her head back every few feet of progress. She cannot do it with her hands, because both arms are thrust into waist-high aluminum crutches. Her legs are enclosed in leather trusses below the knees, and she moves in deliberate, lunging strides, each precisely as long as the last.
The other person stands waiting on the curb. He is about fifty, thin, wearing an athletic jacket and a billed cap.
Halfway through the intersection the young woman stops and turns, evidently having heard something. The sound was the tapping of the man’s white cane behind her. She glances down the street and then slowly and awkwardly pivots on her crutches to retrace her steps. At about the time the light changes she has arrived back at the curb and, smiling, offers her hand to the man in the billed cap. They talk for a moment, and together begin crossing the street when the light turns again.
I don’t think it was until then that the man realized that his escort was crippled. His hand, holding her left arm where she had placed it, touched her metal crutch. He stopped. He spoke to her and he may have been apologizing for causing her a problem, or he may have been thanking her.
Of all the people on the street, why should a girl on crutches have to guide a blind man across the street? She laughed again and tugged at his cap and seemed to be chiding him. Who else on this side of the street? And why not a girl on crutches? And if he didn’t get in gear the light was going to change again. It did and a motorist drew up to wait. He was not impatient. He would have waited all night, because even as the man and the young woman walked past his idling car, he seemed reluctant to drive off.
The man with the cane put his hand on the girl’s shoulder and together they reached the other side of the street. He embraced her momentarily, and sought to touch her cheek. They were two people, strangers, sharing a very profound truth about themselves, and about each other, and it seemed that at this moment they understood something about humanity that others-less fortunate than they-might never understand. A minute later they were gone, in different directions, leaving the street a little less empty than it had been before.
Sermon: Crossing the Street To My Neighborhood Circle
This little story perfectly and profoundly illustrates our Neighborhood Circles of Care.
The woman in crutches was walking across the street – and why was she walking across the street? She wanted to get to the other side, as the old story goes.
She heard the sound of the man’s cane and she turned around and gave him her arm.
Why did she give her arm to him? First of all, she gave him her arm because she could, but more importantly, and more to the point, she gave him her arm because something in her needed to…something in her needed to know that she was not locked into her disability…she needed to do what she could…she was able.
She lived with her disability, all day every day. She took it in stride, literally. Klobuchar said, “She moves in deliberate, lunging strides, each precisely as long as the last.”
We move through the minutes and hours and days of our lives, each precisely as long as the last…the last minute, the last hour, the last day.
No one had to tell her that ‘if there’s any good thing she could do, or any kindness she could show to any person that she should do it now, that she may not pass this way again.’
She might have been a practicing Christian or Jew, a Muslim or Buddhist… she might have been a Hindu a Taoist or Mormon. She might not have belonged to any religious group…she might have been a non-practicing atheist – I say non-practicing because atheists in our culture aren’t supposed to be engaging in acts of kindness – no group has a monopoly on kindness.
Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists and Mormons all talk about this thing in us…this thing that makes us human…this thing that atheists and agnostics know just as much about as any believers know – maybe more.
We’re all crossing the street together, variously abled and variously disabled. We’re all limited in our abilities, and we all need to have experiences in life that help us to get out of our disabilities, to get beyond our limited-ness…and to get to the other side of the street.
It’s as simple and as profound as that.
We’re all what Henri Nouwen called, ‘wounded healers.’ He says:
“Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.