I don’t know how to feel about this, but there’s someone out front picking through my garbage.
I’m not taking a picture because you already know what he looks like. But maybe you don’t.
Maybe you live in an area where this is verboten, or at least highly unlikely, or so inappropriate that the sheer force of the inappropriateness shields you and your neighbors from this kind of thing. That’s how I spent most of my life, too.
Let me just come clean right now and tell you I’m not inviting him in for coffee. This is not that story. Even though he is just a man looking for recyclables that could have redemptive value. Just a man wearing a long dark raincoat on a wet fall morning who also has his own plastic gloves, so clearly, he didn’t just wander down my street when the idea seized him to pilfer my bottles and cans. Just a man with short brown hair and a hat on.
Just a man.
So why does it bother me so much that he’s lifting everything carefully out and inspecting it? That he knows what we had for dinner last night – it’s invasive but harmless, so why do I care? Do I have something to hide?
Sure I do. Nothing he’s going to find, but his strange hands on my once valuable possessions – it creeps me out. That’s my stuff. It’s private.
There are things I keep in darkness for one useful reason; so that I occupy the space under my feet and I’m filling the air that my body inhabits, and feeling the safety of my person. Privacy feeds the illusion that something is mine. But, both literally and figuratively, this is not my land. I have no land.
We moved to Manchester after living in the country, raising littles, thinking that a change would be just the jolt we needed to kickstart empty-nesting. And we would finally be near more of our friends, a new job and the airport. We’d been driving 40 minutes each way to our church for years because it was awesome. Moving to the city put us walking distance from great restaurants and art, and an easy drive to the ocean, which is where God keeps my sanity. So I need to visit it often.
But moving to Manchester also meant living sweaty-close to poverty, unavoidably near it, and some days, smack dab in it. Poverty. Such a rich man’s word. Say it like a Kennedy. Pah-vity. No offense, Kennedys. I’m just making fun of myself, because although I am not Massachusetts Royalty, I also grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth – my Mom was an antique dealer specializing in coin silver. But privilege of birth did not keep me safe.
I understand scarcity as it relates to the lack of opportunity, of a person gone forever, and of years and resources and dreams extinguished, but I have never gone without. Yet, I can see without from here. We now live close enough to without to give it bottled water at a stop light, where it sits with its cardboard sign, wishing that drink was cash.
I refuse to not see him, and that’s where I start.
Jesus died crying.
Jesus died of a broken heart. Those words were still warm on His cracked lips: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The movement of a life of faith is always toward answering that singular question. God, why in this busted-up world have You abandoned me?
God always seeks out where the suffering is, and that’s where Jesus stays.
Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way, available for purchase October 25, 2016
I’d prefer to leave my broken places in darkness but being with God turns all the lights on.
If I admit that I am broken too, I can be with all brokenness. Exactly as I wrote the word brokenness, like a divine underscore, a trash truck lifted and smashed a barrel full of bottles right outside my window. The shards of my privacy. God is in the broken places.
So I let the man have my garbage – it’s truly the least I can do and I’ve done a lot less. I’ve pretended I didn’t see him thousands of times, and making a person invisible is worse than doing them wrong.
There’s all kinds of broken. Mine is interior – that darkness I call the safety of my privacy. My truth is that sometimes I don’t feel safe in my life. Safe has always been a vast ocean of shelter that I pass in and out of. I’m practicing being with that today, as God is going through my garbage in the shape of a man. Emmanuel. God with us.