I stood by and watched a man drown in North Station

The other day, I saw a man hectoring people in line at the North Station McDonald’s for some spare change so he could get something to eat.

Because I, apparently, am an expert in human nature and the struggles every other person faces, I summed him up quickly. He was young, able-bodied, good-looking, white and almost certainly drunk. He didn’t deserve it, I told myself, but without so much as a glance I gave him the change I got back from my transaction and moved to the other end of the counter to wait for my order.

He then resumed his panhandling and I got pissed, growing ever angrier with each person he bugged for change.

Then I received my burger, fries and Coke and, eventually, took action: I took to Twitter called out the MBTA Transit Police and the Commuter Rail staff presumably in charge of North Station for their inability to take care of business and keep bums like this guy from harassing my fellow passengers. For good measure, I “copied” the governor on my complaint. That is, I included the governor’s Twitter handle in my 140-character tirade. I soon forgot about the whole thing. Until today.

A few years ago, I gave my life to Christ. Then something terrible happened. Then I made things so, so much worse. My closest friends and more than a few strangers can probably surmise what I’m talking about, but I don’t care to go into details. Trust me, though, it was pretty bad. With the Lord’s grace, I’m starting to come out of it and have actually emerged from the crisis increased in spite of, or perhaps because of, the experience.

That won’t be a surprise to anyone who has read the Bible, who remembers and understands how the God of Abraham repeatedly led his people — even (or especially) the transgressors — out of the wilderness. That same book, and an abundance of spiritual music inspired by it, also talks about the amazing grace and freedom that comes from Jesus through his death on the cross, his Resurrection and one’s acceptance and acknowledgement of the price he paid for our sins.

There’s a sentiment or a meme or whatever you want to call it that goes something like this: A man meets his maker and, once in front of him, decides to ask why, with all the suffering in the world and with all God’s ability to change it, he lets it continue. But the man never asks the question.

He’s afraid God will ask him the same thing.

Back to the other day. I have been blessed professionally and financially and, on the day in question, had plenty of ability to help this man — well over $100 — in my pocket. Yet, instead of helping, I merely bestowed less than a dollar in change, as well as my silent scorn, on a fellow person who Christ called me to help.

I have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior, yet I continually fail every test he confronts me with. On this day while waiting for my train home, I saw a man desperate and drowning in front of me, yet I didn’t throw him a life preserver, though it wouldn’t have set me back one iota. Rather than ask him what he thought he needed, given him the money and means to solve the problem in front of him, and tell him that he could be reconciled to God and could trust the Lord to break the chains of whatever is enslaving him, I let him go under. I have to live with that knowledge.

I’m going to keep trying to walk with the Lord and, knowing myself as I do, I will certainly keep getting lost along the way. But maybe next time I’ll start being a Christian, rather than just calling myself one.

3 thoughts on “I stood by and watched a man drown in North Station

  1. The Christian virtue of charity is seemingly always in short supply. We could use it more with others in our world — and especially with ourselves. The problem of homelessness isn’t easily solved. You may have been more a help than you think. If the agencies did more than shoo this guy out of the station and connected him to social services that could address the underlying problems that led to his panhandling, then he may be better off. I’d say the anger that prompted the reaction in the first place, while natural, may be a starting point for reflection. The world — and me included — would do well with more charity and less anger.

  2. Its a big club, my friend, a big club. The trick is to double down and try again. Even armed with a smattering of faith, reaching out directly to a panhandler in that context is in the advanced curriculum. When I fall short, I start small and work upward. A pleasant smile and hello to a physically or developmentally disabled person on the street is a great way to get your sea legs back again. The Kingdom is what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters. Hang in there my brother.

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