As I was about to leave Borders book store today there was a blind man, about my age – late thirties, give or take – black, with his hair in stylish short dreadlocks entering and making his way to the front counter. I assumed he was either purchasing a book on tape or perhaps Braille, and that whatever it was had been held and waiting for him at the counter. As I went outside, tossed my book in the passenger seat of my car, I spotted the man again as he exited the building.
The winter had been average for North Carolina. That is sixty-four degrees on Monday and thirty-two by Friday. But, this particular day had succeeded a few days that produced a layer of ice beneath an inch of snow. I observed the blind man negotiating his first few steps on the sidewalk, his dark glasses angled up at dark clouds, white stick poking down at white snow. The sight of the man compelled me to warn him, “Be careful. It’s slippery right where you are.” The man’s head tilted in my general direction and spoke a general “Thank you” and he proceeded with his same natural care, if only a bit more deliberate. I stood there feeling like I should do more.
“Would you like me to help you across that patch of ice?” I called to him. “There’s about thirty yards or so if it.” The man offered me his arm and appreciation and we moved together. Midway across I commented that there wasn’t much farther to go. When we reached the end of the ice patch we graciously parted ways and I watched as he continued on, observing a much smaller patch of ice farther down that he managed slowly and successfully on his own. Soon he was around the corner and out of sight. Although I let the man go his way I felt as if I should have done more – perhaps given him a ride home.
Several hours into the evening I still thought of the man. He was vulnerable, yet capable. Uncertain, yet exuded confidence. Reserved, yet gracious. I wondered why this man should linger in my memory from such an seemingly innocuous encounter.
It was soon after that I recalled earlier, ironically similar encounters in my life that stand out above so many others.
The first recollection is from when I was about fourteen and living in Brooklyn, New York. I was, on occasion, the target of junior high school kids that took sport in taunting in packs. While walking home from school alone one day, a pack of kids loomed behind me. They called to me, testing the waters of provocation until they felt confident. I was wearing a coat that was once my fathers, hanging noticeably large on my frame. This was the focus of their teasing inasmuch as if I had been wearing high-waters. The laughs and jeers continued behind me and my few latent sarcastic comments only heightened their enthusiasm. A deliberate splash of a curbside puddle with a carefully angled trajectory reached the back of my father’s coat raising hardy laughter. After a moment’s pause I trudged on. A moment later I heard another voice, calm and matter-of-fact that halted the noise of the pack. “Why don’t you leave him alone?” The question was more of a command from a college age black man whose eyes met each of my taunters’ eyes while his stride never broke. As he passed I looked to see who had spoken on my behalf yet he never looked at me. Not even so much as a side glance as if to say, “It’s okay kid.” Did I somehow need him to say that to me? Why didn’t I say thank you to him, for it was certainly in my heart?
The pack hung back a bit as I continued on and they soon quietly crossed the street. I marveled at how my unknown savior’s subtle authority had quieted the storm. I still marvel at it and in retrospect I also know that had he not appeared my actions would have remained the same. It was always the right thing to do.
The second recollection is of a time when my family moved from New York to South Carolina for my last year of high school. I don’t think that this incident would be of any significance to anyone else outside of my own experience, and perhaps that is the very reason it didn’t happen to anyone else.
It was day soggy from a previous day’s rain. And bounding across the campus I was trying to look as appealing as I could for any girls that might be glancing my way. Sporting my blue, shirt, black jacket and white corduroy pants I jogged across the grass into the school building with a quick pit stop to check my hair in the boys’ bathroom mirror. Looking down I noticed mud on my sneakers (tennis shoes if you’re from the south) and began to wipe it off with the rough paper towels only found in public rest rooms.
There were other guys in the bathroom about to head to class who were taken aback by the scene before them. The school’s janitor, an elderly black gentleman appeared from the shadows of a stall he was cleaning and without a word stooped down and began wiping little spots of mud from the back of my white pants. In my attempt to look cool while jaunting across the campus, I not only got mud on my sneakers but had also kicked some up onto the back of my legs.
“Hold still, boy while I get this mud off yo britches,” the man finally said in a soft fatherly tone, wetting his rag in the sink. The other guys chuckled as they made their way past us. I heard one of them mutter something that let me know that they were laughing at the janitor for wiping my pants. At that moment I wished they had been laughing at me for getting the mud on myself in the first place.
I thanked the man sincerely and for the rest of that day I searched again for that janitor – and for the rest of that semester in fact, but he never materialized again. Only imposters pushing mops and brooms. As I said, this incident would not be of any significance to anyone but me. The janitor made me recall the college guy who silenced the bullies. And now I recall the blind man and the other two with great reverence as if there is something I am to connect, learn and remember.
These three black men, each different, each fleeting, yet the same in their endurance in my memory. There must be something that touched my soul to remember these brief incidents with such poignancy. I have thought about it over the years and it is only now that I dare to express what connection they have, for I believe they must be connected.
The first man, young, confident and authoritative showed compassion for a person in my situation, yet did not require any action from me. The second man attended to needs I didn’t even know I had and paid no mind to the chuckling of those other boys who were surly laughing at him. He knew he was doing what needed to be done. The other boys saw me as just another guy, but this man saw me specifically and with detail the others did not. The third man – the blind man – could not see but allowed me to see him and act – as if it were my turn to do so.
For me, these three events, when strung together, were designed to continually teach me. These three fine black gentlemen must have been angels because they strike me as such. They remind me of my humanness and that sometimes the simplest choices are difficult to see. Even when a good choice is made sometimes we feel there is more that could have been done. Even when you are right you are made to feel wrong sometimes. Ultimately, the spirit is judged by its introspection rather than outward displays. Perhaps there are more layers here that I will uncover as time goes on, and I hope there is another angel waiting in the wings.
By Tim Timmons
Coming indoors from a night such as this, that dampens everything but the spirit, he felt he needed to become clean. More than a mere washing it was a total, all consuming cleansing that he required, though the warmth of a simple shower would have to do.
The cloth performed its service as servant to master yet the scrubbing yielded not the desired cleanliness; no, that required another agent altogether. After drying and dressing he seated himself in his easy chair, intently, deliberately, expectantly.
Thought the day’s events desired he succumb to the rain and fall like some forgotten rotted timber, left to be scavenged upon and around, he reached for a dog-eared heirloom to strip away the moss, dirt and parasites from him and be cleansed as deep as one could – he supposed.
His thumb found its place between the pages and he read, yet his eyes remained closed.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
by Tim Timmons
A nagging question persists, “Why did God create us?” It seems like all we are designed for, according to scripture, is to worship Him. All for His glory. But maybe we should be questioning the question itself. A question like that is so typically human; all centered around what’s in it for us. We do not want an answer that has the benefit going to someplace other than ourselves.
So there seems to be a great supposition in the question and that is that God is human. God is not human. Although in the previous paragraph I even referred to God as “Him” (and will continue to do so) the fact remains that God is not human. I cannot fault anyone who relates to God in human terms because it is obvious that by making God more humanesque we find it easier to relate to Him. The Bible does it and even Jesus came to us and said he was God, so who could blame us for attributing human characteristics to God. The Bible says He is angry, sad, happy, disappointed, even jealous and displaying a whole range of human emotions. But, again we must remember that God is not human.
Now, back to the question – If God created us because we are to collectively worship Him, and in doing so will ultimately lead to us residing with Him in heaven, isn’t that sort of self-centeredness too human a trait, even for God? So why do we relate to God in human terms? So that we can better understand that which is incomprehensible to mere humans. It is our human need to understand that leads us to this notion much in the same way we package other things so we can relate to them more easily. Referring to a ship as she or the earth itself as mother earth… or even if a screwdriver fails to loosen a screw and ends up stripping the screw we refer to either the screwdriver or the screw as a son-of-a-bitch. That is how humans relate; in human terms.
Take dogs for example. When dogs interact with humans, they do not stop being dogs. They relate to us in canine terms to determine which one of you is the pack leader, whose territory is whose and they see you as just another type of dog really. Yet, they have learned how to adapt in a human world and relate to us in a master/pet relationship. Isn’t this a crude representation of how we relate to God? We are not God, so when humans interact with God they do not stop being humans and therefore it is only natural that we relate to God in human terms. It helps us to understand.
Ever since I began raising a child of my own I have come to equate our relationship with God as a parent/child relationship. I see the parallels so clearly and it has made me a patient and understanding father. And when I try to teach my son I always think about how God tries to teach us. When we teach a child things we try to address things in terms that they can relate to at whatever age they happen to be. As they grow and their intelligence develops they can learn the more intricate details; like going from believing a stork brings a baby to the details of X and Y chromosomes.
I believe that is how God relates to us (and yes, I am aware that I am still giving God human characteristics). Jesus even illustrated great lessons in truth by the use of parables simply to explain things in a way that he knew his audience would understand. The Bible is full of stories, such as Adam and Eve that I believe serve as allegories representing a poetic lesson we are to learn from the life of early man because that is how the people of ancient time could comprehend what God had created. If, when Moses wrote Genesis God told him to write down all the details of the big bang, DNA, the evolution of mankind and some of the things we know today about the science of how things came to be, people of Moses’ day would not believe it (not to mention the fact that the book of Genesis alone would fill a library). But because the story of Genesis illustrated a relational connection to God in an almost fairytale fashion it was easily accepted.
So, is the fact that we are relating to God in human terms wrong, misguided or self-centered, or is it God (whatever form in which God exists) that has made us to relate to Him in human terms because it is the best way for our evolutionary immature minds to comprehend Him at this moment in time?
It seems as if I’ve posed another question in answer to the first. Why are we human? Our constant need for answers is amazing. But perhaps there is no need for an answer – at least not now. Our evolutionary descendents may evolve to a level of understanding that would make any answers of this nature very logical.
Some things just are. Addressing questions related to God is like being in love. When someone asks you why do you love this person or that person you can point out certain traits or qualities in that person, but those alone don’t explain that intrinsic feeling you have for that person. Some things no words can express, no qualifying answers come, but you just FEEL the answer and it is indescribable. So, to the two larger questions: “Why did God create us?” and “Why are we here?” perhaps we should remain silent in lieu of an answer and just FEEL.