Thursday, April 8, 2010

Holding Hands

I took a crowded bus home this evening.  So crowded, in fact, that there were multiple people standing and only one open seat.  That seat was the one directly next to a middle-aged, homeless black man wrapped in a blanket.  He stank horribly and shook violently from head to toe.  For reasons I still don't fully understand, I sat down next to him.

As the bus pulled away from the stop, I found myself staring at his hands.  They were worn, tired hands with dirty nail beds and permanent callouses.  He would clasp them in his lap, but as soon as he was still for a second or two, the shaking would begin... and it would get worse and worse until he unclasped them and adjusted himself into a new position.  Within seconds, more shaking.  It was was clear that he was trying to rest by leaning his head against the glass, but the shaking made it almost impossible.

"Hold his hand."

It took me off-guard, this prompt from God.  I'm always skeptical of people who say "God told me this" or "Jesus told me that."  All too often, people just drop God's name in the mix as a means of justifying doing whatever they please.  I can assure you, in this instance, that was not the case.  As a matter of fact, I was so appalled by the suggestion that I pulled a Gideon and decided to put God through a few quick tests to make sure I heard Him correctly.  (If you don't get the Gideon reference, read about it here.)  So I prayed, "Lord, if you want me to hold his hand, have him cross his legs right now."  He did.  "Lord, if you want me to hold his hand, have him turn his head and look at me right now."  He did that too.

Not the response I was hoping for.

Suddenly, I became very aware of my surroundings.  This bus was crowded.  What would it look like if I just reached over and grabbed this strange man?  And what would his reaction be?  I didn't understand why he was shaking.  Maybe he was an addict or maybe he was sick or maybe he was just mentally ill.  What if he was schizophrenic and when I touched him, he suddenly yelled at me or hit me or lunged at me or something?  A million scenarios, none of them positive, began to scroll through my head.

And that's when I remembered Peter - the disciple who said he would never leave Christ on the eve of his arrest only to deny Him in the face of difficulty.  How often do I imagine myself accomplishing great things for God's kingdom?  Sacrificing my money, my comfort, my time, my very life to honor my Savior.   Yet, there I was, afraid to risk looking even remotely foolish in front of a small group of strangers that I would likely never see again.  Was this too great a sacrifice for the One who sacrificed all for me?  How could I claim to love Christ and deny Him in His poor?

That's when I reached over and placed my hand on top of his.  He looked at me, expressionless, and I gave him a slight squeeze.  For the next 10 minutes or so, we just rode on the bus next to each other, staring straight ahead, while I held his hand and did my best to calm his shaking.  I kept praying, "What now, Lord?  What do you want me to say?  Do I talk to him?  Do I tell him about You?"... nothing.  So I just continued to sit with him in silence and watch the raindrops trail across the window.

When we arrived at my stop, I let go of his hand and he looked at me with eyes full of an emotion I can't quite pinpoint.  The moment felt oddly poignant.  As I walked home, I wondered how long it had been since he had been touched compassionately by another human being.  I wondered if, like so many of DC's homeless, he had been invisible, despised, alienated for days and months and years... enough time for it to erode away his sense of human dignity and inherent worth.  As someone who relies a lot on her words, it was strange to sit in silence on the bus with this man, but I think that, more than anything that I could say or any amount of money that I could give, he just needed to be touched.

Lord, have mercy.


  1. Rachel, that was beautiful. You have a wonderful soul. I know I wouldn't have done the same in that situation, but reading about your experience gave me goose bumps. Bless you.

  2. Thank you for sharing that experience. It's made me think about a lot.