I wasn’t expecting to write this piece but I have to get it off my chest.
Thing is I’m so rich. I’m sitting in this funky hotel in London about to head out and visit the Tate gallery with Carmen, meet my niece and family later and go out for dinner and a show. It’s a world away from Sanjeeva’s room and his family and orphanage in South East India. I’ve just learned that Esther his wife has typhoid fever and is being treated at the hospital. Their car engine seized up the day before we left – and they don’t shake a fist at God they merely embrace the challenge and keep going. And here I am …..
When I arrived in Delhi it had been 30 hours of travelling and I was weary. After customs and baggage collection I headed out to the taxi ranks to hire a ride to the hotel. Pre-paid is better; I approached their booth.
“How much to the Radisson?” I inquired.
“But last year it was 100..” I responded.
“250 rupees,” a voice interjected as a confident young man in an immaculate white shirt and grey trousers appeared at my side.
I was still saying ‘Ok’ as he took my suitcase and lead me at a brisk pace across a few pavements and roads to a line of waiting cabs. Opening the front door of one he heaved my suitcase onto the front seat. He gestured me into the back seat of a rather tired looking vehicle (most of them are like that), shut the door and went over to the driver’s side and talked to him. Pulling rupees from my wallet I said “250?” Leaning through the rear window he exclaimed “No, 2,500!” And for some reason in my tired fog I handed him the notes. He muttered to the driver and slipped him cash and was off back to hustle more business. It was only later at the hotel I realized how badly I’d been ‘taken for a ride’. “I’m usually quite alert to this trick,” I told myself. “Oh well, it’s not a fortune and India’s renowned for people out to take your money so better be careful.”
On our last evening in Mumbai Brad, Jan, Ken and I walked a few blocks down from out hotel to have pizza… a tasty change after curry and rice (which I love). As I waited for Ken to buy an ice cream from Baskins and Robbins for dessert a little old lady came up to me with a smile and an outstretched hand. I stoically looked the other way and eventually she moved on. Earlier in the day I was walking to an ATM machine and passed this guy who looked like John the Baptist dragging himself along the pavement dressed in dirty khaki shirt and shorts missing the legs. He didn’t even look at me and asked for nothing. We passed him again on the way for dinner. He was sitting in the middle of the pavement chewing on something. Again, he didn’t look at us or beg.
I told you yesterday about my last morning in Mumbai when a young man with one arm approached me to clean my shoes. I was heading back to the hotel to leave for the airport and didn’t have much time.
I’d intended to have my shoes shined there if the service was offered. Initially I said no to the young man but he kept asking, “It’s only ten rupees for you but a great help to me.” “Alright,” I replied and sat down on the concrete seats lining the bay as he proceeded to polish my shoes. It was only when he placed the shoe on his stump of an arm that I realized he’d lost one. “How did you lose your arm?” I asked. “An electrical accident seven years ago,” he told me. “I’m wanting to get a larger shoeshine stand so I can earn better money, and I’m also going to night classes. What is your name?” “John,” I replied. “Mine is Bobu,” he said. When he finished I handed him 500 rupees and rushed off. “Thank you, “you are my first customer today,” he smiled.
Forty five minutes later I was in the back of a taxi heading to the airport. We pulled up at a traffic light across from the glistening bay where I’d noticed people on the beach who looked like homeless families. There was a tap on my window and a girl of about 12 with long black hair and a one-year old child on her hip asked for money. She spoke broken English and kept tapping on the window. The driver locked the door as I shook my head and looked the other way. The lights changed and we left her behind empty-handed in the streets of a country where 1.2 billion people live. The highway to the airport is lined with high rise condominiums and sprawling shelters dripping with people in unimaginable numbers. There are no social benefits… how on earth do people manage and what hope do they have?
I arrived at the airport and had no sooner stepped out of the taxi when a British Airways rep asked where I was going and then another came to escort me inside. I joked about getting an upgrade but he said he couldn’t do that. Instead he lead me to another hostess who welcomed me, gave me a comfortable seat while processing my boarding pass in the first class area. I was offered magazines and candy and then sent through the first class boarding lane with… “Have a pleasant flight Mr. Cox,” ringing in my ears. “That was the best booking in experience I’ve ever had,” I declared.
As I waited for my flight the revelation hit me. Why was I so unkind to the beggars? How could I just turn away? Would it really have been too much trouble to smile and hand over 20 rupees or be extravagant and give each of them 100 for God’s sake? Yes I know there are many in India and it becomes overwhelming at times. Mother Theresa responded to that question by looking at the dying baby she cradled in her hands and said,”It makes a difference for this precious one to die in dignity with love.”
What would Jesus have done? I think he would have responded exactly the opposite to me. He would have stopped and dignified the little old woman harassing me outside the pizza restaurant. He may have bent down beside John the Baptist, placed some coins within reach and a hand on his shoulder and called him friend. He would have rolled down the window and asked the young girl her name and that of the child she carried before handing over some notes with a smile. I had the opportunity to allow Jesus to love others through me and bless them in a world where they are hardly ever noticed. Instead I closed my heart and locked my doors and only one out of four got through…. and his name was Bobu.
Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me.. Jesus said. I’m so ashamed at how easily I can walk by on the other side, how I can choose to be like Jesus when it suits me and it’s not too much of a disruption. This isn’t about guilt, it’s merely an awareness of how much I still have to learn and how selfish and self-absorbed I am at times. I don’t like that revelation at all. I want to be open and generous, and foolish for the sake of others.
Carmen an I were having a snack downstairs in the modern noisy eating area buzzing with people on a Friday night in London. This guy walks in with a woman I presume was his wife. She wore a blue skirt revealing long slim legs, She had shortish blond hair and sported modern black glasses. They found a table and he went over to the bar to purchase drinks. She sat at the table in her fully powered wheelchair, hands flailing and head bobbing spasmodically. He returned and sat in front of her with a smile and gave her a cool looking drink to sip through a straw. She leaned her shaking head forward and laid it on his shoulder and they shared an awkward kiss….. “I wish I was Jesus,” I said to Carmen, “And could go over and release healing into her right now.” Whether he knew it or not that man was being Jesus to her. Refusing to walk away because it was hard, or she was severely handicapped… I don’t know their story but love was everywhere around them.
I guess I’m merely sharing the reality that wherever we are we can walk by so easily, look the other way, lock the doors, and know very few names. I wish I could have those last 24 hours in Mumbai again and do it differently… but at least I saw and heard eventually…. that everyone has a name and is worthy of love, attention, and generosity. I m so rich and therefore much is expected of me….. if heaven touches earth through Jesus in me…. then these are moments when it truly counts.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
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.’
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘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.