I have never been particularly religious. I was raised a Catholic, but it was mostly environmental than spiritual.
Going to a Catholic school didn’t help. Leave religion class, walk down the hall to history, and learn about the inquisition, the wars, the hate without end. The news just offered proof that things had not changed. It might have been different in algebra. A line to the Lord Almighty would have been appreciated. There are no atheists in math class.
It isn’t that I don’t believe, because I do. There are things that bother me, though, unexplained things, things that make no sense, terrible things. Things that shouldn’t happen and happen anyway. Somehow, it always made me think humanity, the never ending quest for superiority, was at fault. Wars, crime, violence, neglect all were troubling indictments of mankind. It wasn’t hard to find examples, I didn’t really have to look. They found me, in waves.
It is similar to walking down the sidewalk and coming across those worrisome grates. They are safe, I just know. But, they were bought to us by the same technology that built the Interstate 35 Bridge over the Mississippi River. And I just know someday, somewhere, someone is going to fall through, and I pray to God it isn’t me. Things fail spectacularly.
I work on the very limit of downtown, only a block from the Faith Mission, a bulwark against tragedy. I see firsthand the victims of some spectacular failure. Standing, sitting, huddled, feeling the weight of some unimaginable, unseen collapse. And I thank God it isn’t me
Walking the streets of Columbus at lunch it is easy to lose myself in the herd-like solidarity. The bustling madness, everybody absorbed in the importance of the day. A river of individual parts barely aware of the existence of anything outside the comfort, or discomfort of their thoughts. But in the midst of the madness stands a small, lone figure, holding up a small tabloid. A Street Speech vendor, willing to brave the weather and the crowd. It is almost serene, almost Zen, the way they stand smiling, polite in the midst of the indifferent mob.
I buy the Street Speech newspaper. It is a fantastic bargain. For one dollar I get the paper, a chance to make a small contribution to a fellow human being and an occasional rare opportunity to feel good about myself.
But reading the vendor profiles can be puzzling. Overwhelmingly they express their gratitude to the Savior. I just couldn’t figure it out, so many questions. It was perplexing.
“Why, why are they grateful? These poor people have been pushed to the edges of society. A place society hardly ever looks. A place society is more comfortable ignoring. These poor people have faced problems that would cripple most of us, demons that would send most of us into the blackest pit. These people didn’t just slip through the cracks, they fell through the grates I spent my whole life walking around. And they carry on, with pride, dignity, and kindness.
“How can they find enough strength to find anything to be grateful for? How can they muster such courage in the face of such terrible misfortune?”
I never have the nerve to ask the vendor when I buy the paper, it just seems wrong, rain on a parade wrong. But, I can tell you this. When I buy the paper their gratitude is obvious. If I have one already I just give them a dollar and their appreciation is beautiful.
And their goodwill is contagious. A small transaction, insignificant, minute, people walking past without even noticing, I give them a dollar and they give me hope. A tiny little meeting that somehow makes me believe in humanity all over again. A real bargain.
I want to tell anyone who will listen. “Maybe it isn’t their myopia that clouds reality, maybe it is me. Maybe they are right. Maybe we should all spend a little more time thinking about the things that we are grateful for, and less about the things we don’t have.”
I look forward to Street Speech. It is a message of possibility, hope in the face of despair. Maybe we will get through this together. It always makes me think of that line from that song from so long ago, so far away.
“Thank you, Lord, for thinking ‘bout me. I’m alive and doing fine.”