Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief, London part three

This is the third in a three-part series about our trip to London on Monday, June second. Scroll down to start at the beginning; A Little Flagwaving.

The trip ended with a somewhat sober note for me. As we were waiting for our bus to return us to Oxford, I saw an obviously homeless me walking near us. He was the first obviously homeless man that I saw in London. There are a lot of homeless people in Oxford, but for the vast majority they are young, and look like their homelessness is a personal choice. They all also seem to have dogs, who manage to lie there and look as sad as their owners; I don't know how they train them so well. They all also ask for money and/or sell copies of the Big Issue, a magazine solely invented for homeless people to sell to make money.

This man had a very different vibe, though. He was hunch backed, and slowly, ever so slowly walking - almost like walking pained him. He crept to the rubbish bin, and sorted through it for a bit, and then came our way. He didn't stop and ask anyone for money; he didn't even make eye contact with anyone. He just slowly crept along, his uneven (but not drunk at all, just slow) gait marking time to his dirtied clothing. It seemed like one whole side of him dragged, and that was the side that was covered in dirt so ingrained that it seemed like a natural part of the clothing. He had a beard, and his fast also sagged, like the rest of him - perhaps he had had a stroke - and I watched him first walk past us to the bin, and then make his way past us again away from it.

I felt awkward watching him; I hate it when my image of a bright and cheery world is threatened by ugly things, by dirt, or disease, or crime, or tragedy. And yet, I hated myself for wishing he weren't there, for wishing that I was doing something to help him, while on the other hand desperately wishing he were somewhere else, somewhere where I wouldn't have to think about others in this world not as blessed as I am, about those who make me wonder why I have so many blessings, and they so seemingly few. Times like this pull me out of the construct of life that I've so carefully built up, and that for the most part seems real, until moments when suddenly I'm confronted by something like this old, beaten down man, and all of my pithy sayings and beliefs crumble to ash under my own searing gaze at my conscience.

The only knowledge I have that withstands that test is my knowledge of the scriptures and of what Jesus said about helping others, "When saw we thee a stranger."

And yet, as I write this there are tears in my eyes. I'm sharing this experience not because I'm proud that I reacted well, or because I learned a great lesson, but because I'm ashamed, deeply ashamed. Because although I know the Saviour's teachings, I did nothing.

I turned my eyes, and just ignored him, just did my best to think nice thoughts, and not think about the remnant of humanity making his way past me. He went on his way, and I never once thought of the good Samaritan, I never once said to myself like what King Benjamin advises in Mosiah 4:29, " And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give," I felt like I should give him money, and if not that, at least a nod and a smile. But instead I gave him nothing, not even the sympathy of my heart.

As I lay in bed thinking about our trip that night, that's what stood out to me the most about our busy day; the unforgettable image of that man, and the shame that I had failed in my stewardship, the knowledge that unlike the man in the hymn, "A poor wayfaring man of grief, hath often stopped me on his way, who sued so humbly for relief that I could never answer nay," I had answered nay.

I wish that I could go down to London again, that I could bring food and money and love with me, and give it all to him. But if I thought I couldn't give him something then - which I could have, I definitely can't afford to make a separate trip now. Yet all the tears running down my face don't make me feel any better, and all of the wishful thoughts don't make the past any different.

All I can do now is go forward, and then next time I'm confronted with the breaking of my own idealized world to pick the better way, to be Christ-like. So next time that you are in a position like mine, don't be like me. Please. Because regret is far more awkward that confronting your own prejudices and choosing to be like Jesus.


  1. It makes me cry just to read this. Yes, the poor are always with us and it does test us what we do when we see them. It is easier to donate to humanitarian aid than give to the person suffering next to us.

  2. It makes me glad that you are learning about repentance MUCH younger than I did! I had a similar experience when I was about 40, and I carried the guilt around for YEARS before I got a chance to atone for it. But be of good cheer! The Lord will provide a way. He always gives a second chance to those who truly repent.

  3. Bless you Thora for you heart was in the right place even if your actions aren't. We will pray for the poor wayfarer that his grief may be relieved.

  4. What a thoughtful post and a great reminder!!!

    Just wanted to tell you I really appreciated your comment on my blog! We have some unlikely friends here who I'm really going to miss although we have very little in common!

    Hope you don't mind, but I'm going to add your blog to my Google Reader. I've always wanted to live in London, and was REALLY hoping that's where the Air Force would send us. But alas...Japan!

    P.S. My hubbie and I didn't have t.v. for about the first year and a half of our marriage. And I think it's awesome and think all the time about going back to "no t.v.". I depend on it to babysit my kids far too much.