By Jimmy Patterson
The man and woman walked into the elevator before us. She was struggling with a walker, he was navigating our way down. Karen and I were coming from a doctor’s visit; the older couple was, too. My wife said something to the two of them and the man, a jovial sort, began talking to us. My mind was elsewhere and all I could remember thinking was that the couple had appeared to have what had been a difficult life. I smiled at what the man said and my mind returned to the trivial concerns my day. All that mattered was my stuff and I missed an opportunity to share a few moments with this couple. Although nothing earth-shaking or life-changing emerged from the exchange, which couldn’t have lasted more than 30 seconds, I missed an opportunity. The man laughed quietly as he spoke, and Karen and he continued small talk during the length of the elevator conversation. Toward the end of the ride, it suddenly dawned on me my actions could have very well been considered rude. But the man quite obviously didn’t see rude in others, he only saw good, judging by his ever-present smile. I finally saw this in him, but by then, the elevator doors slid open, the woman walked out and the man followed her. Karen and I walked out behind them and didn’t see them again.
What it was that had shaken me out of my selfish thoughts on that elevator was only a fleeting moment, and the words, “What if?”
A lot of us have the habit of maybe not paying as much attention to strangers as we should. We figure, we’ll never see them, I’m too busy, they might ask for money or tell me their problems. So ... why bother, right?
But ... what if?
This weekend at our small Christian gathering, the night before Divine Mercy Sunday, our group tossed around our usual assortment of spirituality talk. Someone in the group asked what Jesus would look like when he returned. Karen chimed in, certain that when Christ descended he would be in white, flowing robes, perhaps even with that golden halo around his head like in many of the artistic impressions rendered of him.
But what if he is not wearing white robes. What if ...
No one asked me that night for what I thought Jesus might look like when he returned. One of my thoughts was that Jesus was in the face of the man covered with boils who Pope Francis recently blessed in St. Peter’s Square. That was Jesus. In both the faith of the disfigured man and the willing and gentle hands of Francis.
In hindsight, the suffering man probably wasn’t Jesus. But what if?
Another frequent point of discussion in a few of other small groups and conversations with friends has been how to extend the feeling of calm and peace and holiness when we are all finished with that day’s discussion and head back into the big, bad world. It is a fascinating topic in that it recurs so often. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but why is it that one moment I am being moved by prayers and stories of King David, the Gospels or someone’s struggles with life’s problems, and five minutes later in traffic, someone cuts me off and I lay into my horn and throw up my hands and scream out a name that I may think describes them accurately at that moment but probably doesn’t describe them at all.
I noticed once that if you ride in the passenger seat of a car, it’s easier to not be angry when someone does something ill advised or dangerous in the car in front of you. It just doesnt seem as personal when you’re not the driver. But since we cannot be chauffered everywhere and still hope to feed our families, it is necessary, then, to act responsibly when behind the wheel and refrain from lashing out which, I have also found, only makes the situation that much more intolerable.
And this, you might ask, has what to do with a woman using a walker and a talkative man on an elevator with whom I missed a chance to converse because of my own selfish actions?
On one hand, nothing. On the other, what if? What if he is rushing to be by the side of his dying wife, parent or child? What if she was just fired and isn’t thinking clearly? What if he’s hungry? Or suffers from physical condition that makes it difficult for him to survive, let alone drive? Or what if he just came here and isn’t quite familiar with the layout of the city streets yet?
Jesus was human, as Fr. James Martin reminds us in his new book, “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.” He faced the same challenges of day to day life as others of his time did.” Before he wore white, glowing robes, he dressed — and looked — like everyone else. Since he looked like others and dealt with similar issues facing the people of his time, who’s to say when he comes back, he won’t look like us again? Who’s to say he won’t try to strike up a conversation with a stranger or forget to use his blinker?