Back in the era of my middle school years, I began to notice a trend in my behavior toward the “underdogs” amongst us. In the view of a school-aged child, the underdog would be someone who was not in the “cool” group, someone who was made fun of or picked on, someone from a very poor family, someone not superficially “beautiful,” someone who was smart/study-oriented to the point of nerdiness, someone who had just moved into the neighborhood and was still friendless in school. I found myself mysteriously and irresistibly drawn to these people. Sometimes, in my foolish concern for self-preservation, I failed to follow my instincts of coming to someone’s aid. However, I was usually one of the first to befriend an outcast, or, at the very least, the only one to keep my mouth shut and not participate in the unpleasant verbal mockery.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not crafting a self-portrait of a saintly little girl. I could be as rude and mean as the next kid, but it was much harder for me to engage in such behavior towards an underdog. I’m sure that part of the reason was because I was a bit of a castaway myself. I did have my group of friends, because I was silly and fun, but I was also quite plump, and I was a borderline honor roll student. What this means is, I lived in between those two worlds of “the cool” and the “uncool.” It was a confusing land of exile, and I did not always make the most charitable choice, but I tried, very often. I have developed in such efforts as I’ve grown older, and have greatly expanded my horizons.
On a crowded bus, I would sit down next to a dirty, unkempt old woman and try to initiate small talk, or offer to help an inner-city elderly man in well-worn attire carry his meager bag of groceries to his doorstep. I visited the residents in nursing homes. I traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, and met men who tried unceasingly to get across the border and into the United States (to be reunited with their children who were U.S. citizens), and after capture and short incarcerations, ended up, time and time again, back in a homeless shelter in Tijuana. I realized that more and more, I felt myself attracted to these outcasts of our modern culture—the poor, the uneducated immigrant, the handicapped, the sick, the worn, the lonely, the terminally ill, the abandoned elderly. And it was not an attraction of, “Awww…that poor person,” kind of thinking, it was more of an, “I love you, I see beauty and true humanity and dignity in you” mindset. I never really tried to sort through this strange inclination of mine, because the depth of it somehow escaped me, until I began to live my faith more seriously.
Christ in the Broken
As my spiritual growth continued, I began to wonder, “What is it about the lowly among us that draws me in?” Why do I have sincere love I feel for these people?” Then, one day, quite suddenly, it hit me. If you are broken, or sick, or poor, or made fun of, or hard to get along with, or scarred (either physically, emotionally, or spiritually)—I am drawn to Christ in you. Yes…you heard me right! I see Christ in you, maybe not always directly in your behavior, but always in your brokenness. Your burden is obviously difficult to bear. Your wounds are palpable and many, your heart is broken, you feel lonely and unneeded, and the pain, sadness, or anger in your eyes are evidence of your suffering and pain. Your eyes meet mine, and I know…
As I watch you stagger by me, weighted down by your burdens, my heart quickens. When I was younger, I did not understand this quickening, but now I do. Just as Christ suffered injustice because of my sin, so you struggle because I have not done enough of what Christ has called me to do. My spiritual growth over the years now compels me, more than ever before, to reach out and take your hand, perhaps even wipe the blood from your face, just as St. Veronica did for Jesus, or offer to help carry your cross, as Simon the Cyrene did (although, technically, he didn’t actually offer…, he was pressed into service against his will, but many believe he came to understand and love the Lord during those labored steps alongside a so-called “convicted criminal!”). My heart has come to a place where I recognize you, and in genuine love, I desire to help you carry your burdens.
Worthy of Love
Please, never doubt the sincerity of those who come to you in your hour of need—the impulse is born of love…the truest, deepest, most enduring kind of love known to mankind. Such love and compassion is etched into the very depths of our souls, and can rise unbidden in the midst of great suffering, even from the darkest of souls. If I come to aid you, you might also recognize Christ in me, and you will be drawn to Him through me, and together, we can rise above the evils of this world.
So if, in a time of great suffering for you, our paths should happen to cross, and I stop to offer my hand, please don’t think I am acting merely out of pity, or a desire to earn praise. It is because you are truly worthy of love. I hope you will recognize love in me, for I will do my best to offer it, freely and without expectation, in the hopes that you will come to know the love of God through my actions. It has been spoken best by St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) See Christ, accept Him, because you are His Beloved!