Creating a Civilization of Love
I’ve been walking to work for the last week. Not because my car broke down or because I love exercise. For Lent, I decided to go temporarily without the luxury of driving to work, much as the working class in my neighborhood walk or take the bus. Plus I could get some steps on my new Fitbit—see even my sacrifice is self-serving.
It’s less than a mile each way, but still seemed likely that I would give up after a week. Why? Because there’s some sketch. An intersection or two where I’ve seen drug users sitting by a big oak tree, homeless people walking or drifters waiting for the bus. Along the rest of my route, it’s mostly people walking their dog or jogging.
For the first few days I walked with paranoia. Fear that I would cross paths with someone and they would ask me for money, or worse, rob me, even though it was the morning daylight. Still, I was careful to walk on the sidewalks where cars would pass by—at least if there was a scuffle, someone would see it. Unless I saw someone sketchy ahead. Then I skillfully crossed the street a block early so as to avoid them.
After a few days, I hadn’t encountered many people at the problem intersection. Only when I got onto a residential side street yesterday did I see someone suspicious outside an upscale condo building, picking up his open blue sleeping bag. I was careful to walk on the other side of the street. Here I was, afraid of him, but I’m sure he just wanted a safe place to sleep and probably a meal. I kept walking.
I was reminded of a talk I recently heard about love. How love changes everything. In 1982, Pope John Paul II stated that one of the greatest challenges in the world was creating a civilization of love.
What would it be like if I approached these suspicious people with love? They are in need, after all—in need of a safe place, a job, a meal, love. If I walked with an open heart, would I be less afraid? It was a reassuring thought.
Today, as I walked to work, the light at the intersection turned green, and on the other side, I saw two sketch people walking with blankets. I hesitated, considering my alternate route. I’m sure the truck waiting to turn was impatient. So I crossed, knowing I would cross paths with them. Love, I reminded myself, holding my purse close—not fear.
I averted my eyes as I walked past them, and I heard one say to the other, “My daddy always said if you want something you gotta f*ing get it yourself.” Funny, my dad would say something like that. Good, you can say that to this guy if he turns around, try to build common ground… Love…
One block further, the street was quiet, except I could see a young black man with a backpack and an open blue sleeping bag, working to stash it behind some bushes near the charity guild resale shop. Hurriedly, I crossed to the other side of the block, while he walked the other way.
What a hard life that must be: Not knowing where you’ll sleep. Paranoid your bed might disappear during the day. Wondering where the next meal will come from. Is there a way I could show this man love?
Then I thought of the Hope for the Homeless bags students at my school recently made for a community service day. They are bags full of toiletries and I’m not sure what else. What if I could something like a meal for him in his secret hiding spot behind the bushes. Could you imagine his surprise!? Maybe momentary relief…
Just before lunch, I stopped by the cafeteria and picked up some foods that I thought would last the day outside… tuna and cracker snack packs, nuts and seeds, a banana, some Oreos and Gatorade. On a post-it, I wrote, “Friend, I hope this meal makes it a better day for you. -B.”
I left the bag near the bushes. When I passed by again after work, I was delighted to see it was gone.
No one meal solves anything, I know. But today I was reminded that we can’t live in fear, and that if we approach people with love, we’re more likely to find common ground, and raise each other up.
I’ll still cross a block early when I see someone sketch—because safety, first—but I’ll try to think more about how I can help others, even if it’s in a small way.