Every morning on my way to work I passed a man, slouched and crumpled in a dark corner of the subway stairs, and he would say, "Change a little spare?" Many people either put a coin in his paper coffee cup or just rushed on by.
I chose to do neither. I felt a pull to see the person underneath the matted hair and street grime. This man was once a child at play. Something in a mother's view of him haunted me, called to me, although he looked close to my age.
I talked to a friend at work about this man. We were both moms whose children were teenagers away at the same boarding school. We were both finding it hard to turn the mom switch off in our lives, as we missed our kids (even though they were so busy they didn't seem to even notice we were not around to mother them). My friend, Mary, and I prayed to God to know what to do.
The Bible verse that we felt fit in with our prayers and our yearning to be helpful to this man was from an instructive discourse that Jesus gave to his disciples in Matthew 25:34-45.
The part that was important to Mary and me were these verses: "I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me." In the story the ones who performed these kind acts ask the King when they did these things for him, and he responds, "I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me - you did it to me." (Eugene Peterson, "The Message").
Here was a biblical green light for Mary and me to go forward and "mom" away in our outward gestures for this man. And we had plenty of mom ammunition to go around. Mary found some clothing that her son no longer used, and a sleeping bag that was not needed. I took on the culinary challenge of lunchmaking, buying small brown paper bags to pack something nourishing each day. We chipped in and bought some warm winter clothing items, like fresh socks, gloves, and a hat.
Since Mary drove to work, I was the one who delivered these tangible symbols of our mothering each day, and it wasn't easy. The man in the corner would lunge and swear at anyone who tried to speak to him; he was not easy to look at or to approach. So I made certain I left the items in his sight but a respectful distance from his area. I placed them down in a nonchalant manner, always careful to prayerfully remind myself that my "gift" was only a token of God loving this man, not some do-goody thing Mary and I were doing. I prayed to see that the dignity of each person was intact and worthy of respect. We may have been mothering our new friend, but we were certainly not trying to make him feel less than whole.
It was one of those cold New England winters, and the young man began expecting me as I came out of the subway to get to work. He would stop his droning chant, "Change a little spare," and look at me, really look at me. Occasionally, I heard him say, "Thank you." Dressed in some of the clean clothing we'd left, he didn't seem so scary. And when the weather turned warm, he was gone.
Mary and I knew we'd seen him through the harder part of the year and felt happy about our small role in contributing to his comfort. We also saw how helping another enabled us to handle missing our children through the school year. All around, we felt a divine plan had unfolded and blessed everyone.
The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother's need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another's good.
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of the Monitor)