To date, this is the most difficult blog post that I’ve ever written and felt the need to have to write. It grieves me deeply that a post like this is necessary. But it is, and so I will write.
For those who haven’t been to London, or have known London by just passing through, you’re probably familiar with all the awesome gourmet restaurants we have, Richmond strip, Western University and Fanshawe College, our infinite farmlands, and other cool things like that. But I’m here to let you know that like every other city, London has it’s issues and is in severe need of people who will actively care for those that call it home. If you go to wikipedia (yes, wikipedia, I know, I’m a university student and I’m talking about wikipedia because I know that’s where most of you will google anyways), you’ll find out that as of 2011, we have 366, 151 people here. You’ll know that London was the central hub for the military in the 20th century during the two World Wars. We’re the sixth largest city in Ontario, the eleventh largest urban area in Canada, and that were in the snow belt and get crap tons of snow (that last bit is personal experience, wikipedia: not necessary). But what wikipedia doesn’t have is stats like the fact that 16.7% of Londoners, or 61,147 are living below the low income measure. It doesn’t talk about all the store fronts that have been papered up and advertised “for lease” for the past three to four years with no bites. It doesn’t talk about how it has about 6-8 head shops on Richmond Strip alone. It doesn’t say don’t go past the bridge by the VIA and Greyhound stations that takes you to the broken side of town where you should never walk alone at night.
So how do those stats translate into real life and affect just one person who happens to be waiting outside of her best friend’s mom’s work?
It had been a tight squeeze because my best friend offered for me to come over to her place for a sleepover after our afternoon class so I could see and converse with some human beings who wanted to have me around for a change. I told her I’d meet her at her mom’s work so her dad wouldn’t have to drive all the way back to back track to pick me up. I lost track of time getting ready, made for the soonest bus, and still got there with plenty of time to spare. I was standing in the middle of the city’s biggest plaza which is always busy during the day… with people loitering and having no where to go and nothing to do because the majority of them are unemployed and homeless (do to an assortment and/or combination of things, some of which most likely have to do with the economy collapse and all the factories that have closed down and so on – see wikipedia). It’s been weighing on me the fact that I’m so useless, save to observe these people who mill about. Some are agitated, some are listless, some are paranoid and anxious, some are boisterous. Some dart this way and that after a bus, some kick the ground and check out the scuffs they left, some talk to themselves and tuck themselves away from prying eyes. And the classical music playing over the intercom doesn’t miss a beat, installed to discourage loitering, though for some it’s the only beautiful thing they’ll hear all day.
Almost every person I’m observing is wandering around with no where to go and all the time to get there. And as I’m standing there taking it all in I find myself faced with the question, Father, what can just one person like me do to help these people? I’m a student with no funds, short on time at this moment, not much at my disposal to offer up and they need more help than I can offer. London, you’re a small city, but I feel useless to you. And the man in the corner who’s tucked away by himself snaps his fingers as if to get someone’s attention and talks to himself and gives an arbitrary whistle. Just then I turned to see him, and he walked back out the front door he came in just minutes ago, leaving me to my thoughts and conundrum. I turned around to look through the glass doors behind me to see the McDonald’s customers enjoying their orders, and a little family of three (a dad and a boy and a girl) standing in the building’s entrance foyer. Just as I was glancing at the family, the little boy let out a cry as his dad took him and pulled/shoved him over to the opposite side of the entrance door to the room they were standing beside that had a “for lease” sign on it. The dad stood over him as the boy shrank against the glass with tears streaming down his face and with fear in his eyes protesting his dad, saying he hadn’t done something. His dad growled words I couldn’t make out back. The scene lasted maybe 30 seconds. Composing himself, he turned back around lifting his phone but saw me watching and realized I had seen the majority of what just happened. He quickly looked down and busied himself with something on the screen. But he knew I had seen him, and was still watching him.
Perhaps after reading that, you would like to hear what I suspected was going on. You’d like to hear what I think of that dad and the little boy who was afraid of him, or maybe you’ve already formed your own opinion. It’s tempting to say that there’s clearly more than meets the eye to this story, but in reality, all I have is what I saw. And what I saw I have said above.
So after about a minute, I composed myself and pushed open the glass door that separated me and that little family and walked up to the father. I could feel the tension rise as he felt me approach.
“Sir, what is your biggest worry in life right now? At this moment, what gives you the most stress? It doesn’t have to be specific – it can be general, but just tell me what it is if you don’t mind.”
He eyed me and then looked away. His mouth tightened as a thought popped into his mind, and his eyes darted back to mine and then away again as he said with an edge of uncertainty, “I just want to give my kids a good place to grow up.”
“Sir, do you mind if I pray for that right now?”
“Uh…. sure. Yea.”
And so I asked if I could put my hand on his shoulder, and I did. And as I prayed I broke down. After we finished praying, the tension was completely gone from his shoulder as I lifted my hand off. When I removed my hand, he went back to his phone.
“Sir, do you mind if I give you a hug?”
He said no, and so we hugged. Perceiving that I thought that a person wants to be let go after a certain amount of time, I loosened my hold, but he kept his.
“Thank you. I seriously needed that today.” And he let me go.
And I walked away because my best friend had just arrived to take me to her mom’s office.
I don’t know what that man’s story is. I don’t know if his boy did anything that needed disciplining, I don’t know if the father was abusive. I don’t know their financial circumstances, I don’t know if he was telling me the truth. I don’t know any of their history. I don’t even know their names.
I do know, that being a parent is super stressful and sacrificial from observing parents. If they’re economically troubled as I suspect they might be, I could not imagine the amount of stress that heaps on to an even more stressful task. One day, God willing and in the right context, I hope to be a parent myself. Being a mom is one of the hardest jobs this side of heaven has to offer, so I’m told. I do know, that I had a little bit of time and not a whole lot of money. I do know that I, by myself, can’t build Rome in a day. I know that the places God puts me and with which people are not a coincidence. I know that every one is broken in their own way, that we need each other, and we need the love only a Father can give – everyone including fathers. I know that broken things require mending.
I know I can be opinionated. And that our society believes that if you feel strongly about something you’re opinionated about or feel offended by someone who disagrees with you, then dammit your opinion should be something that everyone else agrees with and dare not challenge… but, that’s not true or sound.
Regardless of if that was abuse or discipline – a piece of info that would have been a conclusion of my inferring things into what I saw – that man was still broken, which means he needed mending.
And not by me. Humans are infinitely complex (very much like their Creator who created them in His image.) By grace and love. Things that I can very imperfectly offer a portion of. And I can only offer it because I have known love and grace and It has known me and doesn’t shy away at the shameful things I’ve done when I myself have put others in line with my crosshairs in the past. I struggle with my own conundrums and vices, same as that man does, deferring only in specifics as to what with.
Trust me when I say that it’s worth it to ask,
Father, how can I serve London today?