Our good friend Christina Chase has allowed us to use this story from her own blog, ‘Divine Incarnate.’ It’s always worth reading her reflections; the second half of this will appear tomorrow. And thanks to her father Dan for the picture, which shows Christina’s hands cradling a family heirloom – a tin cup used by her grandfather in logging camps. Thank you for a glimpse into your family’s eternity!
It happened on a chilly September day, a simple moment that’s never left me. I was a young adult with my parents, following my eldest French-Canadian cousin in a tour of old Montréal. I remember the colourful splashes of garden amidst stone buildings, the glassed-in eatery where we had hot chocolate and poutine, and, indelibly, the old man begging outside of Notre Dame Basilica.
When I saw him, I was being pushed in my wheelchair by my father, because the sloping, cobblestone roads had tired me too much to power it myself. The imposing structure of the Basilica came into view from the sidewalk, soaring above us, and there, ahead of us, resting against the thick outer wall, was a man with grizzled gray hair, wearing faded clothes, and holding out a little cup in his hand.
Having lived a fairly sheltered life, I had never seen an actual beggar in person. Homeless people I had seen with their shopping carts downtown, but they were not beggars because they didn’t ask for anything. This man, however, this old bearded man with beautiful, wide-open eyes was holding out a little begging bowl, silently requesting someone, anyone, to help him.
What I Did
My cousin, an inhabitant of Montréal, was walking ahead of us and obviously saw the beggar, but didn’t stop walking and passed right in front of him. My parents followed suit, and so, I did too, literally pushed along with them. Perhaps they were thinking that any money given to the man could be used to buy alcohol or drugs and they didn’t want to take part in enabling his habit, but this thought didn’t occur to me.
In my youthful idealism, the sight of the beggar was a call to action. My immediate impulse was to put something into the old man’s cup, to do something for him, to at least give him my coin-sized care. In order to act on this, however, I would’ve had to stand out from my little group of people: asking my father to stop pushing my wheelchair and to take some money out of my bag to put in the little begging bowl. Easy enough, but thinking about the reactions of my group, I intimidated myself.
Of course I knew that my parents and cousin would think warmly of me if I asked to put money in the beggar’s cup. But that’s precisely what I didn’t want. I felt like a little girl, like any little child who gleefully wants to put money in every donation bucket that she sees. I still looked like a child, and often still felt like a child because I had to be cared for by my parents, but I was supposed to be an adult and I wanted to walk, so to speak, in the company of adults, not sticking out as the child among them.
Giving in to my pride and cowardice, I chose to go along with the crowd—a rather childish thing to do.
As I passed directly in front of the beggar and looked into his sky-blue eyes, it was as if we were both suspended in a chasm of time where I felt, where I knew, that I was about to pass by an irretrievable moment, an irreplaceable something. He did not look down at me, his gaze remaining straight and above me, and perhaps this was what made me look up to him so completely, experiencing the lowness of my place, as though I were down on my knees, dejected there on the pavement.
Broken away from that moment, I squirmed and fought myself to ask to turn back. But I didn’t. I let my childlike desire to help go unspoken, and as the beggar receded further and further into the background, I didn’t experience remorse so much as petulance. Like a petulant child, I thought only about my inabilities, placing fault on the others beside me while really angry with myself.