It’s nice to be comfortable. Whether it is curled up on a couch, wearing shoes that fit perfectly, or snuggled in for the night on our pocket coiled mattress, we put a high priority on comfort.
But if we are not careful, comfort can lead to complacency. That is why couches are easy to get into and difficult to get out of. Years ago Pierre Berton wrote a book titled, “The Uncomfortable Pew” in which he suggested that churches had become complacent and smug, and were missing the mark in terms of what a life of faith is all about. In other words, he suggested that we can’t change the world by sitting in a pew on a Sunday morning, we need to be active and engaged in it. Like all of Berton’s books, it was met with fanfare by some and disdain by others. But he had a point. A life of meaning has to offer us more than comfort.
And so it was that two days ago I pulled off the highway at Dunlop Street and came to a red light where it intersects with Cedar Pointe Drive. It was a warm day and my window was down. Sitting on the curb, not five feet from me, was a young woman in a ball cap. She was leaning against a post. She wasn’t asking for money, she was just sitting. A few feet from her was a man, significantly older than her, walking back and forth between the cars holding a sign. He was asking for money.
I assumed the two were together.
The woman smiled at me, and that’s when I saw the bruise around her right eye, with a cut underneath. Her other eye was red and I could see she had been crying. After smiling at me, she looked down. I saw her reach up and rub her eye, and then she looked up and smiled again. She was so close I could have reached out and touched her hand. No words were exchanged, just looks and nods and smiles.
I was uncomfortable.
I was in this person’s space for no more than 90 seconds, but it felt like an hour. I felt like I wanted to say something or do something, but I didn’t know what that would be. With her friend lurking close by, I didn’t know if intervening would make things worse for her or for me or for both of us.
So I sat. I nodded. I smiled. I drove away.
I live a comfortable life. I have a comfortable home. I make a comfortable living. I have friends and family who make me feel good about myself. In the game of life, I’m winning. And I know it. But all around me are parallel worlds. Dramas are being played out in rooming houses, and street corners, and shelters, that have nothing to do with my world. I’m curious. I want to know more. I want to help. But sometimes I’m so comfortable in my world, I don’t notice theirs. Or even worse, I let complacency lull me into a belief that those who struggle are someone else’s problem.
I have thought often about that young woman in the ball cap. I wonder where she goes during the day. I wonder if she has family who miss her. I wonder if she still clings to goals and dreams for what her future could bring. But mostly, I wonder if she is okay and if she is safe.
It’s never a good feeling to be uncomfortable. But sometimes it’s exactly what we need. I made a pledge to myself that I was going to start noticing, start asking questions and start responding to the need that is everywhere around me. I feel in some ways I owe it to the stranger in the ball cap who smiled and let me know that she was there.