The Lamp That Lights the Way of Love

Karen Gempel // Tales From the Trenches


April 21  

Driving to a warehouse to pick up some food yesterday in Dallas, Texas, I saw, on the far side of the road, a man in a wheelchair parked on the sidewalk of an intersection in a meager part of town. He was holding a cup for donations. He was wearing a hospital mask.

This image did not shock, surprise, or move me to pity. At that moment, I looked at him as if he were a political cartoon, worthy of comment because it was clever. “Sign of the times,” I muttered to my husband as we drove past. On our way home, we were on the right side of the road, but the man was already gone.

Back in our house, with a three-month stash of nuts and fruit, I thought about him, and he invaded my dreams. 

I am not too ashamed to write these words, and yet, I don’t consider myself a hardened person. I’ve stopped at those intersections many times. Why now, when people are so very needy, did this man affect me so little? Surely his mask was not just for effect. Maybe wearing it showed that he harbored a hope that his life had meaning and purpose, and he wanted to live and to change.

If I had made the effort and looked into his eyes, would that have changed me in the moment? Have the masks, and hiding, and the distancing enforced by the law of the land become a free pass to my selfishness?

(But the pandemic!)

After all, we are 65 and over, John and I; we have children and grandchildren and jobs and, hopefully, can retire with a little travel trailer with chili pepper lights if we just hunker down and follow advice. Surely, life will return to normal.

But in reality, I think, it will be a very long time, if ever, when we can return without fear to that careless kind of normal that Americans still aspire to. The type where we mind our own business.

The disciple John writes that Jesus told Nicodemus:

The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit . . . If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? (Jn 3:8-12)

There are all sorts of ways to be next to people you love in the age of coronavirus. Virtual meetings, phone calls, emails, TikTok—every conceivable way to be present to one another without actually being present.

And then, there’s my kind of presence to the man in the wheelchair.

Right now, is there any room in our lives for Christian warmth and presence to the strangers among us? 

What if I had stopped in my car and (from a social distance) just met that stranger’s eye—met it hard—and with warmth and goodwill sang out to him, “Hang in there, buddy, I will be praying for you!” And by making that connection, allowed the Holy Spirit to use my eyes, voice, and heart to shine a lamp in a dark time?

In these unprecedented times may the Holy Spirit light the way to loving as Christ loves.

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