The day I realized I lacked no material things, was the very same sub-zero-degrees day I nearly locked eyes with this middle-aged Austrian man on the train with no shoes.
His barefooted state was not a choice, I knew.
Feeling compassionate, I closed my eyes, walked up to him, asked him if I could buy him a pair of shoes, did so, and continued about my day.
In my mind’s eye, that is.
For in reality, I really did nothing more than envision myself helping him. In reality, I felt like helping, like showing some compassion, but did nothing. I did not want to stand out as that black person on the train who thinks she needs to make a point by being the only one willing to help a poverty-stricken middle-aged man or so I told myself. Being on the way to meet a friend, I did not want to be late either; and so, I watched this man exit the train, knowing fully well that I should probably get out with him, follow him, ask if I could help him, and only then go about my business.
This inability to help wasn’t so much a lack of ability, as it was a lack of willingness. Priorities a-mess.
It reminded me of the parable of the Great Banquet the rich man had set – and the excuses all invitees gave: some had to look after properties, others had to work, or tend to family and loved ones. None of these were necessarily wrong, but all had misplaced priorities.
My excuses were an embarrassment even to myself, I had to admit. I frowned.
As noble as my thoughts, wishes, and intentions towards him were, was my inaction shameful. And just as I had made excuses, so had everyone else.
Perhaps presumptuous, but I’d like to believe that most people on the train felt sorry for him too. If I had asked everyone to put in €1 towards getting him a pair of shoes, I have no doubt I would have collected €60 in under a minute. Heck, I am sure (had I asked) even just one person would gladly have forked it all out. But no one asked, and no one did. We all just thought.. someone should.
Someone should help. Someone should walk with him, talk to him. Someone should care.
But in reality, there is no someone. That someone is always you!
In hope of someone helping, we always look to others. And as we all simultaneously do so, situations slip away, moments pass by, and people end up feeling unnoticed, uncared for, and unloved.
And so I thought to myself: What if, in 2016, we each took just one day a month to look around and actually lock eyes? No longer looking away, but looking into the eyes of others, feeling their pain, and actually meeting their needs?
What if, in 2016, we chose not to only help those who came our way asking for help, but took it a step further by occasionally actively going out and looking for those who might need us? Old people in a nursing-home, company. Teenagers at a shelter, mentoring. Or even just a homeless man, some food and conversing.
What if, in 2016, we stopped making excuses and actually made a difference?
What if, in 2016, for every pair of shoes we bought, we gave one away? Or for every meal we ate out, we paid one forward?
We have been told that all that mattered was to follow our dreams, to feel good, to be adventures, to discover our true selves, to fall in love, to live life to the fullest. But what if all of these were lies?
What if, in 2016, we actually finally realized that the quality of our lives really lies in human lives?
I’m challenging myself to do just that this year: to seek out people I can be a blessing to; and to stop making excuses. People who cannot bless me in return. Random people. Strangers. Simply people who have a need and who will allow me the privilege of meeting it. I invite you to do the same. Let’s lock eyes and lock hands. We’ve made excuses for way too long.