Unwanted Pastoral Care between Bus stops

Today was one of those days where I didn’t really want to talk to anyone. But, argh, sometimes, it just happens and I can’t stop it.

One of the great things about New York is how easy it is to isolate yourself in your own private world even if you are traveling in a small moving vehicle with fifty other people next to you. Find a seat or a place to stand, pop in your earbuds/headphones or open a book, and that’s it – you are gone to the world. The walls are set, the boundaries drawn, and the moat laid; you can enjoy your small piece of individualized exclusion until you get to your destination. That was something I really felt like I needed around noon today. I just was sick of people today.

Chula (my cat) and I were on our way to visit a friend where Chula will be spending the next few weeks on vacation. I got on a bus, found a seat, opened my book, and kind of ignored everyone while my iPod blasted mashups into my ears. When I was at the stop before my destination, I got up, picked up my cat and her things, and moved towards the door, to quicken my departure once I got to where I was going. As I moved into position, an older gentleman, shorter than me, and with a weird mole or growth on his upper lip, noticed me. He told me he was getting off at the next stop and I said I was as well and explained that’s why I moved. My earbuds were still in, and I was doing my best to not engage him but that didn’t work. He kept talking and I found myself responding back.

Honestly, I really tried not too. I really tried to just grunt responses back. But I just couldn’t. It seems part of me turned into chaplain mode. We talked about apartments and how he recently was evicted. He told me he was struggling to get on disability. He told me his wife of sixteen years had just recently died “but at least she didn’t get to see the eviction.” We stood next to each other for only five minutes but he kept talking and I kept asking questions and actively listening to him. When our stop came, he held the door open for me, and I wished him luck on everything and then we parted ways.

Did I do a good job engaging with him? Oh Lord, no. Over the last year or so, I’ve started to develop my inner dialogue that is able to reflect on what my mouth is doing. There were things I missed or purposely didn’t engage in. I didn’t ask how he felt or dig deep even though I could see that he was trying to get me to travel down those routes. I really don’t know if he felt like I actually listened to him. My inner dialogue knew all of this and told me “to do better” but I ignored it. And the fact that I didn’t do a little better…well, that bugs me even five hours later. I didn’t do horrible, mind you, as the guy sounded like he had hope. But I could have done better and there was an opportunity here for some real pastoral growth. But I let that slide right on by. Sigh. If that was an angel or Christ, I hope they don’t hold my lack of effort against me*.

*As a side note, I really am not a fan of the meeting-Christ-in-stranger imagery because I find it very overused and I don’t necessarily agree with it all the time. But it is hard to NOT think that when situations like this occur. Oh well.