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A Boy on the Street

I saw a boy today.  Ten or eleven years old probably—about the age of my own son.  He was walking alone along the side of a busy road.  He was skinny.  His jaw protruded out, an under bite full of crooked yellowish teeth, and his greasy hair was sticking out in all kinds of different directions.  His eyes looked vacant.  He had a thin, tattered summer jacket on, zipper wide open revealing a lime green stretched out t-shirt that hung almost down to his knees.  His pants were too big for him, his shoes hardly up to the task of navigating the slushy dirty city streets.  He looked cold.

I stared at the boy as I slowly drove by, but he didn’t look my way.  His pace quickened as he tried to make the walk signal.  I don’t know where he was going, all by himself on a chilly February afternoon, all by himself with his lime green shirt and his falling apart shoes and his hair and his teeth, and his poor, skinny, damp self.  I don’t know his story—don’t know if he has parents or anyone to look after him, anyone to ask him where he was going with his summer jacket with a zipper that doesn’t work.  I don’t know his name or what school he goes to or if he goes to school at all or if he has any friends in the world.  I don’t know how often he finds himself all alone, wandering down the cold road to God knows where.

I don’t know much about the boy I saw today.  But my heart ached for him nonetheless.  Somehow when I saw him today, there was a weight of sadness that I can’t really explain or describe very well.  The hurt was heavy when I imagined the many sordid scenarios that might lurk behind the boy I saw on the street today.  I imagined angry, careless adults who couldn’t cope very well, who yelled at him a lot, who told him to get out of the house, who didn’t care if he got his homework done or if he had something healthy for lunch or if he wanted to try out for the basketball team or learn the trumpet or maybe read a book instead of watching TV all day or if he needed braces… And behind that, I imagined those angry adults as kids themselves—kids dealing with their own angry adults with not much kindness to spare, their own stretched out t-shirts and bad shoes, their own cold, lonely afternoons with no one to help or hold them.  And behind that… Well, you know.  A weight of sadness.

But all of this is just imagining… What do I really know about this boy on the street?  Nothing.  And how much can anyone really tell from a brief encounter on a busy day?

I got home and received an email from my son’s band teacher.  Said he was doing really well at the bass guitar, that he was a pleasure to work with, gave me a few tips to help him practice more efficiently.  My heart was happy and I was filled with pride.  I wandered around the house a bit and saw iPods and soccer balls and clarinets and guitars and sheet music and art supplies and books and stuffed animals and all of these other signs of busyness and opportunity and resources and the frenetic quest to help our kids thrive and excel and discover something to go after with all of their hearts.

And then I thought about the boy I saw on the road earlier in the day.

It struck me as so, well, wrong, that goodness and compassion and opportunity should be so unevenly distributed in our world.  It made me so sad and angry to think about this skinny boy with the vacant stare and the bad teeth, all by himself on the dirty, slushy road.  It made me wish that I had abandoned whatever important activity I was on my way to when I saw him, parked the car, and asked him if I could walk with him for a bit.  Maybe I could have bought him a warmer jacket or a new pair of shoes.  Maybe we could have stopped for hot chocolate and a donut.  I could have asked him his name and about the kinds of things he was interested in.  I could have done something—anything!  Who knows how far even a small token of warmth and kindness might have  gone?

But I didn’t do any of these things.  I drove on down the road.  Back to the office, back to work.  Important things to do.  A bible study to prepare for tonight.

I opened my bible and read the text for tonight’s study.  The fourth chapter of Luke.  Jesus, quoting these words from Isaiah in the synagogue:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The year of the Lord’s favour.  Christ, how we need this.  For the weight of the sadness, for the poor, the blind, and the oppressed, for the skinny kids with bad teeth and wild hair who shiver in the cold, for all the grown ups who keep finding ways to neglect them.  Yes, we could all do with a bit of the Lord’s favour.

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yvonne #

    Thank you Ryan. Your words reach deeply.

    February 20, 2013
    • Thanks, Yvonne. Much appreciated.

      February 20, 2013
  2. Thyiela Maschek #

    We Christians spend so much time and effort building our churches, “doing” programs for our church family, sending money to our missionaries…….What a different city we would have if we put all that time, effort and money we spend in building our church into building our community

    February 20, 2013
  3. anonymous #

    reminds me of a similar story written years ago, except it was a man, with the @#$ beat out of him, left on the side of a road

    February 20, 2013
    • I guess that would make me the priest? The Levite?

      Yes, that story (uncomfortably) occurred to me later too.

      February 21, 2013
  4. Tanya #

    Seriously Ryan. You’re killing me. The struggles I am having in my head since my return have not been easy but have been good. Your last couple posts are right where I am at. Thanks for helping think things through. Truthfully I am scared where God is taking me….

    February 20, 2013
    • I imagine you witnessed a weight of sadness on an entirely different level in Haiti, Tanya. Peace to you as you think, struggle, and continue to give of yourself to those often forgotten…

      February 21, 2013
  5. So sad, I pray you will meet him again.

    February 21, 2013
    • Me too. Good to hear from you, Petra.

      February 21, 2013
  6. Bruno #

    Thank you Ryan, these opportunities are present to all of us. The couple soliciting at London Drugs can be offered a Pizza at Boston Pizza, the hopelessly confused diabetic needs a ride back to his home, the young man hitchhiking out on the highway in a winter blizzard needs a meal and a place to stay for the night, or, and this is personal, a family is devastated by a farm accident to witness the aid of a whole community. Thank you for telling us about The Boy on the Street. Thank you also for stirring empathy that is gracious to those who have a will to help but are no always able. Bt.

    February 21, 2013
    • Thanks, Bruno. The opportunities to help are all around us, as you say. As are—thank God—tokens of grace.

      February 21, 2013
  7. I am more aware of the plight of others these days. For too long I have seen it as a government problem with government solutions. That’s just an excuse for me not to get involved. It’s a people problem with God solutions — and that must include me

    February 25, 2013
  8. It’s a people problem with God solutions — and that must include me.

    I like the divine/human synergy implied in this statement, David. Thanks for your comment.

    February 25, 2013
  9. colinfagan #

    I appreciate that you didn’t avoid the discomfort that comes when we see something that we know is out-of-sorts. I’ve found that the weight you describe can be a catalyst to action. However, it has also served as a reminder that the fragmented content of this world is much greater than I can ever hope to repair, which reminds me of my limits and humanness. I often dream big, and though there is a place for imagining the world repaired and restored, it is equally necessary to be reminded that sometimes the greatest thing we can do is cultivate the little bits of ground Jesus has provided us. This is not always comfortable to accept and I appreciate that you lived in that tension where flourishing encountered the fallow ground of yellow teeth and worn-out shoes. Thank you for your honesty and allowing us to glimpse this dynamic.

    February 26, 2013
    • mike #

      …Great comment,man.

      February 26, 2013
    • Thanks for your comment, Colin. There is much wisdom in what you say. I especially resonated with this:

      I often dream big, and though there is a place for imagining the world repaired and restored, it is equally necessary to be reminded that sometimes the greatest thing we can do is cultivate the little bits of ground Jesus has provided us.

      Beautifully articulated, and profoundly true and hopeful. Thank you, again.

      February 26, 2013
  10. mike #

    It’s been my experience that poverty,when done rightly, carries with it a pecular Holiness and profound sense of God’s blessing and presence.

    February 26, 2013
    • mike #

      ,as does suffering.

      February 26, 2013
    • Yes, I agree, Mike. The problem obviously comes when people from a position of privilege presume to tell those who are in poverty or are suffering to do it “rightly.” Too often, the promise or expectation of “God’s blessing and presence” can become yet another tool to keep others down and to preserve our own privilege.

      And yet… “Blessed are the poor… those who mourn… the meek… the suffering… etc. The fact that it is difficult to talk about with integrity and compassion does not make it less true.

      February 26, 2013

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