Magnets. Whether you've passed the time with one of those desk top "toys" or as a kid learned about the positive and negative sides of magnets, you've likely stacked magnets, felt the force of them sticking to or repelling each other.
Sometimes I feel like a magnet. When I encounter others, sometimes the sides of us facing each other make it super easy and even fun to connect. Sometimes, the sides of myself and another facing each other - even though we are essentially made of the same substance - cause us to experience a repelling. We feel awkward or weird.
One of those moments for me has been at traffic light intersections. You know the scene: a red light, you stop and there's a tired-looking person standing at the corner with a cardboard sign. My head spins in moments like these. I feel like I want to respond but I don't know how. I want to look since there's a human being standing there, reaching out. They may be reaching out in a really socially unacceptable way, but they are reaching out - so I want to look their way, but I avoid eye contact. I don't have loose change. I'm not sure that would help anyway. I don't know this person and I don't want to judge, but I'm not sure I want to entrust them with a gift of cash. All these thoughts and feelings surface and finally, (deep breath) the light changes to green. I can go on my way, perhaps say a prayer for the person standing there. But I resign myself to feeling that there's nothing I can do, and in a few minutes, I'll be on to my next task and it won't be hard for me to forget.
My husband and I have a group of friends who asked the question: "What if we were ready for these unexpected encounters at the intersection?" So we have gathered together with packages of warm socks, boxes of granola cars, hats, even hand warmers and meal dollars for a particular food venue. We put all this on a table and take one of each to put in a big zip lock bag, assembling what we call "Love in the gLovebox bundles".
Last week, Jason, my husband, and I had a meeting in downtown Saint Paul. There was a gentleman standing at the intersection of 35 E and Grand Ave. He held a cardboard sign indicating he was a veteran and in need. I handed Jason one of the gLOVEbox bundles we had prepared in community just a couple weeks earlier. He rolled down his window, passed it to the gentlemen on the corner and simply said, “Peace, Man.” It was remarkable at how ready he was to receive when he had no idea what Jason was handing him. I looked back and he was smiling and turning the bag over and over, seeing what little precious gifts were just given him. I pray he is safe, warm, loved and loving always. I don't know how that small gift impacted him, but I know it changed me. To be able to not pass him by. To be able to look at him unafraid. To connect with this human being and not experience that repelling impression - if even for a moment - was so powerful. It is changing my heart and my eyes.
This weekend (Nov 21st), in Duluth I shared a bit of this story with a set
of songs, such as Wayfaring Stranger (the spiritual), Invitation to the Unlikely and Be the Love. (Click on the song titles to view the youtube videos.) Afterward, a gentlemen approach Jason and myself with tears welling up in his eyes and he thanked us. He said, "I'm someone who has been there at the street corner; ...you want to know how that man was impacted? ...you showed him care in an uncaring world. You showed him dignity. Thank you for doing that." He apologized for hardly being able to keep it together. He was so deeply moved. We thanked him for sharing.
There are so many small ways we can intentionally live kindness, to be compassion, to be love. Even if we don't share all of life with another, we do share our humanity and we share the earth we live upon. Love in the gLovebox is just one simple way our group of friends has discovered helps us turn a little so the side facing another is the magnetic connection side. Maybe when the most unlikely pairs can stick together, maybe then we can build strong and genuine communities.