It was a dehumanising lifestyle, wandering the street every day, rejected by family, and those who counted as friends shared this common bond of rejection. Stricken by a mysterious illness, rejected by my faith community, and forced to beg on the streets for food, or scour the garbage piles in the hope of a meal. This faceless woman was unable to snare the attention of anyone for assistance, frustrated because she was not afforded the status of being human unrecognised and unacknowledged by everyone, the best she could do for company was to get lost in the throng.
I am given to occasionally ponder the faces that pass by each day: nameless people with whom I have no other connection than the footpath, tram, or road that we share for that moment. Although on a journey to somewhere, each person could well be no more than a statue, or a cardboard cut out, such is the superficial nature of our engagement.
In the busy and crowded city, we are forced to disconnect ourselves from others in order to get places, and in order to survive. We cannot stop to talk with everyone who crosses our path, nor hope to engage in meaningful conversations with everyone we meet. Yet with evidence of increasing mental illness and psychological stress, it is clear that many yearn for a deeper sense of human relationship, a deeper contact with the people of the world in which they move.
As we move through the pace of the day, it is only those who command our attention who get it. Whether by virtue of a place in our diary, an open window of time affording a chance encounter, or a demanding person who refuses to be overlooked, only a limited number of people gain our attention. Many pass through the day unnoticed altogether. There is an internal filter which keeps many people from getting too close.
Of course, its a survival technique. In the gospels we find Jesus walking through crowds of sick people, choosing to respond to only one or two. He leaves masses behind in order to find solitary places where he can spend intimate time with his father, and with his disciples. We cannot survive by being totally available. But we have to ask ourselves whether the patterns of our lives lock out the stranger altogether. Jesus was aware enough to stop for a tax collector up a tree, for a blind man sitting beside a road, for the woman caught in adultery. Yet there were times when his attention was seized, as in the woman with the flow of blood, who wandered the streets a faceless person but reached out to grab the attention of Jesus as he pressed through the crowd. Im human! she seems to scream, I need you! The woman was made whole in more ways than one.
As those who are called to live the kingdom in the manner of Jesus, let us too be alive and alert to the challenge not only to be human, but to humanise others.
November 4, 2007