I’m reminiscing the day when I moved to San Francisco from the idyllic town of Danville, California. I wrote this after one of my first adventures exploring the city in 2013. And what I think about it now that I’ve moved back to the suburbs.
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I felt I should go to the San Francisco Public Library. I thought it in my head then I heard mention of this very library on the radio then a Pastor mentioned a library in his sermon. So I went to see why God was leading me there. I love books anyway!
I walked down Market Street to get there. A bit over a mile. It was exciting. I’m walking in one of the greatest cities in the world!
I crowed. I felt like Mary Tyler Moore
in the opening of her show! I wanted to throw my hat in the air…if I had had one.
I just started noticing…people, places and puddles. A man caught my eye standing at the curb, back to traffic, a cigarette burning between in his fingers, headphones jammed over his ears and in a state that would mistake him for a wax museum figure. Still. Vacant. Hollow. Sad. Had he heard some bad news? Was life just so monotonous? Was there no hope? His sadness aged him. Then I saw another man smoking at the curb. What’s with all the curb smokers? Ah, must be the distance from a public building the law says one must stand if one wants to smoke.
I saw a woman wearing wild-striped tights with artificial red hair and smoky eyes. I walked past a bored girl manning the Chai Latte cart, in a lull between caffeine rushes. I noticed two guys in knitted caps, one with a suitcase handing a box of cigarettes over to the other, only it wasn’t cigarettes that were in the box, if you catch my drift. Man, this city is gritty. You don’t get this in Danville. That I saw plainly.
The further I went down Market Street the sketchier it became. More people clothed in Goodwill, more shopping-cart homes, more people without teeth. A man was dancing to the music in his head. I was really glad he pulled up his saggy pants before he had pants on the ground. I admit I was getting uncomfortable. This wasn’t the exhilarating Bright Lights, Big City anymore. It was down and dirty and druggy with an element of danger lurking. Of course it was broad daylight so I thought I would be safe. But the stories of crime happening in the daylight were becoming more often told…
I was just a little bit relieved when I walked through the doors of the Public Library, a six-story, modern building with touches of history. I had to go to the bathroom and there I noticed the streets had followed me in. Two apparently homeless women were chatting.
“Where ya been?”
“Oh I spent 3 months at Harper House. At 214.”
One lady was putting on makeup from her satchel. I wondered if this was her morning routine. Sleep on the sidewalk. Get ready for the day in the library. I wondered where she would take a shower. She needed one.
I noticed that the computers were all taken. A line was already forming to the left. Why not use the Internet at home, I thought. Especially since people had to stand if they wanted to use the computers. (Libraries don’t want people too comfortable when they are surfing the web, I guess.) At home we have one desktop and two laptops, one iPad, one iPad mini and two smart phones. We are well connected. As most of my friends are. Why would anyone use the computer at the library? Then I remembered my friend who was homeless tell me that the library is the only place she can use the internet to look for jobs or housing or…even just cat videos. I suppose if you’re homeless having a data plan is not in your budget.
Not sure why God brought me there that day. Maybe just to observe. Maybe to get me out of the comfort of my Red Chair to see how people live in the city just over the bay. Maybe to see that not everyone lives like I do. I know that, of course, but since I don’t see homelessness and mental illness on the sidewalks of my suburban neighborhood, I just don’t really think about it. Do you?
A subtle reason for apathy is that justice rarely has much to do with our daily lives. We take it for granted that life is generally fair.
God brought me to the library, not to look at books. He brought me to see humanity. To open my eyes a little wider. To see the hurting, the vulnerable, the forgotten, the poor. Frankly, it was a bit overwhelming. Disturbing. Made me more than a little uncomfortable. Truthfully, I wanted to run back to safe and clean suburbia where people looked, shopped, worshipped and dressed like me. But God had awakened something in me. And He was asking me…”Are you too comfortable, too disconnected by being uninformed, too insensitive, and too selfish to see the need for justice?” I am. I confess. But I don’t want to be, God!
Ken Wytsma says in his book Pursuing Justice, “When our empathy is engaged, our empathy can move us toward justice.” Lord, move me towards justice. Is that your prayer as well?
Wytsma suggests a prayer to help me, help us move towards justice.. Every day wake up and ask,
What is right? What is just? Where is God and what does He care about? How do I labor to be the kind of person who makes God’s world a just world? How can I work to redeem and reconcile people trapped in sin and systems and help bring about shalom?
This is my journey…beyond the comfort of my Red Chair towards justice, kindness and compassion. If this is your heart as well, let’s journey together!
GIVEAWAY! I love to give away books! That’s why I love libraries! This is a powerful one that’s going to be my map on the road to justice. I have Three Books to Give Away! Just comment and you’ll be entered to win!