I pulled into the parking lot located behind the hundred year old brick building and backed the truck into my designated parking spot. Sluggishly, I gathered my belongings and climbed out of the vehicle to make my way into work. As usual on Monday, I was not looking forward to work. Regardless, I headed toward the fire escape covered in numerous layers of sea-foam green paint. I guess it takes the focus off the fact that the fire escape is probably just as old as the building itself and looks like it might collapse into a heap of rubble with the slightest breeze. Carefully, I ascended the rickety, wooden fire escape attached to the back of our building, my morning coffee in hand. When I came to the first landing, the back door loomed before me. I reached for the handle, let out a sigh and entered the machine room. Making my way through the engraving room, Darci gave me a quick glance and greeted me with a hello. I responded with a similar salutation and continued on to my office and sat down at my desk.
As if on cue, the phone started ringing and the fax machine kicked in spurting out orders. I could already tell this was going to be an long day. Sitting in my chair, I spun myself around to face the computer. Waiting for the computer to boot up, I laid my head on the desk to relax for a few seconds. Just then a customer started shaking the front door, not realizing you actually had to use the handle to release the latch from the strike-plate. "This is a hundred year old building. People are too accustomed to those high-tech automatic doors." I thought to myself. Pulling myself out of my chair, I mustered enough energy to walk to the front and open the door for her. Returning to my desk we started discussing her stamp order. After a few minutes, she turned around and left. My day has officially begun.
Contrary to what I originally thought, the morning seemed to fly by. Just half an hour away from lunch time, I was making great progress on the stack of orders sitting neatly on my desk. However, my stomach began to growl and for the next few minutes, time seemed to stand still as I stared at the clock. Eventually, I turned my attention back to work, typed up a few more orders and answered a few phone calls. Again, I glanced up at the clock just in time to see the minute hand disappear behind the hour hand. It was finally noon! Grabbing my jacket, I raced out the back door and down the fire escape, the entire thing shaking under the weight of my feet pounding against each step.
My 45 minute lunch break was mostly ate up by driving home to feed the dog and let him run off some energy. I then made my way to Taco Bell for a quick bite to eat. You can't go wrong with the $2 meal deal (even though they aren't just $2 anymore). Where else can you get a chicken burrito, some Doritos and a pink lemonade for that price? That's right, nowhere! Running a few minutes behind, I may have exceeded the posted speed limit on my way back to work. Again, I parked in the back and made my way up the fire escape, praying this wouldn't be the time it collapsed. When I got back to my desk a few papers were laying there with stamp orders scribbled on them. With that, I sat down and got back to work.
Around 2:30 everyone, with the exception of me, decided it was quitting time. My co-worker had an appointment, so she was ducking out an hour earlier than usual. The other guy, who happens to be my boss, needed to run some errands. He informed me it would take a few hours and I needed to lock up this evening. For the next few minutes, I sat there enjoying the silence, basking in the fact that all my work was done. Just as I turned around to my computer screen to kill some time searching for new music a woman outside the window caught my attention. I watched as she paced back and forth on the sidewalk right in front of the store. She must have been working up the courage to walk in the front door, ordering stamps is a pretty intimidating task.
As the door slowly opened, with a squeak, the woman stepped into the building. She took a few steps toward my desk when I noticed that her gaze was glued to the ground just in front of her feet. I greeted the woman and asked if I could be of any assistance to her. There was no response. During the moment of silence that followed I noticed her ratty shoes. And upon closer inspection I could see her jeans were a bit dirty. Beneath her dark blue hoodie, which was half zipped, I could also see a grungy looking t-shirt. Atop her head was a brown, knitted stocking cap that had seen better days. Again, I asked if there was anything I could do for her. Finally, she titled her head up just slightly and began to speak. In a quiet, shaky voice the woman informed me she wasn't from here. She went on, explaining that she had no family here, was homeless and hungry. I was taken aback. It's not everyday someone wanders into your place of business with this story.
"I don't have any cash" I told her, "but let me go in back and see what we have." Immediately, I turned around and walked towards our break room. On the shelf, next to the microwave, in a bag were a few leftover blueberry bagels. I grabbed the bag and made my way back to the front. The woman seemed a little more upbeat as I strolled up to her. I handed her the remaining bagels and apologized I didn't have any cream cheese to go with them. As she reached out her hand, I extended the bag in her direction. Grabbing the bag, she turned around and took two steps toward the front door. After a brief pause, the woman turned around, placed the bag of bagels on my desk and said "No thanks." With that, she turned around and walked out the door.
A bit bewildered, I stood there as she made her way across the street. She reached the sidewalk and stood there, contemplating which direction to head next. The woman then proceeded straight ahead to the driveway of the bank. A car turned into the driveway and drove up to her walking right down the middle of the lane. Both her and the car stopped as if preparing to face-off. The car remained motionless as this strange woman walked straight toward the vehicle. She came within a foot or two of the car's grill when the driver backed up and drove around. Unfazed, the woman again stood there, looking confused. Another car made it's way through the driveway in her direction. This time she made a B-line toward the vehicle, without any regard to her safety. Again, the driver of this vehicle stopped, waited for just a moment before eventually driving around her. With that, she took off across the remaining few feet of the driveway and disappeared around the corner.
I replayed the whole encounter over in my mind a few times. At first I came to the possible conclusion that she had a gluten allergy. Why else would you pass on a few perfectly good blueberry bagels? Then it got me wondering, "What did people with a gluten allergy eat just a few years ago, before it became such a booming business?" I redirected my focus back to the situation. More options to respond raced through my mind, "What could I have done differently? Should I have sent her to the church? Could I have closed the store and taken her to get something else? If I had any cash, would I have given it to her? It's not like it would break me. How would I have done things differently if given the opportunity?"
Upon pondering these ideas for the remaining few hours of work a story Jesus told kept popping up. The lesson he gives at the end goes like this, "I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!"
I then came to a few conclusions. In society, individuals like this woman definitely fall into the category of "the least of these." They are the ones we turn a blind eye to. The ones we ignore and write off, deeming them someone else's "problem." In situations like this, my only responsibility is help them. Ignoring them is not an option. I can definitely meet their need in a tangible way by giving them something to eat. I can even cough up a few dollars. I don't think it's really going to perpetuate their poverty, homelessness or addiction. The bottom line is this, I should respond in whatever way God impresses on my heart--which, by the way is always with grace. It's not like God offers us forgiveness only if we promise to never, ever do something again. How they respond and what they do with my offering is ultimately their decision.