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May 10, 2011

A few days ago, I encountered a beggar on the subway. While not an especially common sight, even during rush hour, I had seen others like him before. He carried a small cardboard sign, explaining his plight, and walked up and down the cars, letting people read it. Those I had seen in the past mentioned on their signs only that they were hard of hearing and hungry, always that they are hungry.

This young man’s sign was different. It read “I am deaf, homeless, and diabetic. I need $219 to buy insulin. Please help.” At least a third of the people who he approached gave him money. Of those who didn’t, I would estimate at least half didn’t read the sign. He had the highest success rate of any beggar I have seen, anywhere in the world. Better than mothers with hungry children, better than street urchins, better than the crippled beggars on every street corner in China. I would say he even did better than most of the street performers I have seen playing their instruments in subway stations and city squares.

There is no doubt in my mind that he earned his $219 that afternoon. Realistically, if he had been out there all day, he probably earned three or four times that amount, maybe more.

What made him different? The fact is that he easily could have lied about being diabetic, even about being homeless. He could have lied about the cost of insulin. And if he spent 40 hours a week working his way around the city with that sign, he could have made a reasonable living. There’s no great stretch to that logic; every person who gave him money probably considered it, at least briefly.

People feel drawn to those with a tangible, relatable need. It’s easy to imagine how terrifying life on the streets of DC could be with a disease like diabetes, needing medicine you cannot afford, and knowing you face death every day you go without it. People can empathize with that terror.

For many people in my life, I think it is easy to empathize, imagine how it might feel to be betrayed by the person who you love more than anyone else in the world, be hurt by the person who promised to protect you, be rejected by the person who said, “until death do us part.”

Sharing the horror of this situation, even in an abstract way, allows community to happen. It motivates people to spend two weekends in a row, first packing and then moving, doing manual labor for someone else’s sake. It drives them to email, call, spend their afternoons texting (instead of preparing for meetings they should be preparing for).

I mean, that’s why my community basically sprung up after this all happened, rather than coming together before. They were there before, but I didn’t need them, and they, on some unconscious level, knew that. I guess I should say that I didn’t need them the way that I need them now. I think things could have gone very differently in my marriage if my husband and I had been more intentional about being a part of community from the beginning, but we didn’t do that. It was easy not to do that, and to allow ourselves to be isolated, where no one could see our problems and we weren’t held accountable to working through them.

Community is so important. Having one significant relationship in your life is not enough, and I think that’s easy to forget as a newlywed, because that person seems to be enough for everything, or you want them to be.

S said yesterday that the often people who go through trauma find purpose afterwards in telling others their story, and helping others to move through the same struggles. Specifically for believers, it can be a powerful testimony to God’s strength and love, the way He walks with us in the hard times. I think for me, no matter what else happens in the months to come, I will walk away from this situation with a story to tell about the importance of community, especially Christian community and how the church is meant to operate.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. kaini permalink
    May 10, 2011 2:57 pm

    Great post. I thank the Father for the community He has provided for you there and for the work He is doing in your heart. You are in my thoughts so often. I love you friend.

    • May 10, 2011 9:04 pm

      It’s not just community here though – that’s another part of it, I guess. Like you were talking about on your blog a few weeks ago, how community and relationships are deeper than just where you live. I am literally being supported by friends around the world – what an amazing community of believers to be a part of!

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