Yesterday, on my way home from work, a woman asked for my help. We were riding the Q train, 300 feet above the East River, crossing the Manhattan Bridge. The woman quietly walked the length of the train car handing out small slips of paper. Some people accepted them. Some people waved their hand and mouthed a polite-ish no thank you. Most people ignored her.
Honestly, I tried to ignore her.
Ignoring the woman proved to be difficult, however, when she boldly tucked one of the slips into the crease of my opened book and walked away. The slip said:
I am deaf and I am homeless. Support, Please. you help pay me 75¢ or $1. Thank you. God bless. I Love You.
She wasn’t asking for anything complicated. She didn’t want someone to restore her credit or teach her to be a dental hygienist. She just wanted a few coins… the basics of assistance.
But after she gave me the slip, the woman walked the length of the train car, opened the door that separates one car from the next, walked through, and closed the door behind her. She gave me the slip… and then gave me the slip. Even if her note had inspired me to reach into my wallet, the woman was gone before I could give her any money, off quietly asking other people for help.
Two minutes later, after everyone had time to read the note, the woman came back. If a passenger had one of her slips, she stopped long enough to either accept a few coins… or take back the paper. She literally reached into our laps (or hands, or books), took back her “Support, Please” paper, and put in a stack to be redistributed to more compassionate passengers.
She was both an aggressive fundraiser and an aggressive recycler. Her work done, she quickly (and quietly) moved to the next car never to be seen (or heard from) again.
In other words, if you didn’t offer assistance, she took back her cry for help and never bothered you again.
To my ministerial friends and colleagues:
It takes a lot of guts for a gay kid to walk into your office and tell their story. Those who summon the courage to say “I’m gay” may not have the right words. Probably they won’t. They’re still finding their voice. They may stammer and blush and drop their announcement awkwardly in your lap.
My word of warning…
If a gay student stands quietly in front of you and asks for your help (or advice, or sympathy, or acceptance) and you ignore them… or worse yet, if you listen politely and offer nothing more valuable than a well rehearsed speech about sexual purity… or even worse, if you use words like “hell,” “immorality,” or “abomination”… that student may follow the deaf woman’s example. He may take back his cry for help, walk out of your office, and never bother you again. He may give up on both you and everything you represent.
So please, if a student (or friend, or family member) trusts you with this deeply intimate part of themselves, remember… they’re not asking for anything complicated. They don’t need lectures on the nature of sin, sermons on the importance of purity, or clever re-tellings of the Sodom and Gomorrah story.
They simply need you to reach into your pocket and pull out the basics… the small coins of love, acceptance, and grace that our theological currency is built on.