catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 12 :: 2013.06.07 — 2013.06.20


Lovely in eyes

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces. 

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”

I boarded the train at the north end of the line, but gradually, it filled up with rush hour patrons, many making their way home from work.  Most riders were silent or having private conversations, and the sounds blended with the movements of the train to form the usual soundtrack for commuting.  But at some point, a voice began to cut through the background noise and everyone started to watch as a fast-talking huckster conducted a betting game with an immigrant who didn’t appear to speak much, if any, English.  It happened so quickly that I can’t even remember the terms of the game or the bets, but it ended with one man slipping off the train with a pocket full of cash and another penniless and quietly humiliated in his seat.  The thing that still makes me feel sick when I remember the weight of the silence that followed is that none of us intervened.  We all watched as he lost upwards of $100 in cash.  I did the only thing I could think of when I got off the train and gave him the $5 bill I had on me with a sad smile.  He took it and nodded a silent thank you that I did not deserve.

I remembered this experience recently when a friend posted something on Facebook confessing her failure to act when she witnessed a case of playground bullying — two boys harassing a girl, while the kids’ fathers chatted obliviously.  She didn’t say anything to the other parents because she was afraid, and she linked to this letter about being brave in the face of bullying as a reminder for next time.  It’s a reminder we all need, as both children and as adults.

In fact, my friend’s post prompted me to get in touch with one of my former middle school teachers to tell her how much it impacted me when she sent one of our classmates on a fake errand to the office so she could give us a talking-to about how poorly we were treating him.  In my mind, my teacher was brave in many ways, and this one stands out.  I was chastened not just in my treatment of and failure to stand up for this particular classmate, but all of those who are marginalized for whatever reason.

But I think there’s a bravery that goes beyond simply getting involved and saying something when we witness a specific situation in progress.  It involves surrendering that lingering desire to be popular that never quite wears off after middle school and actively turning our attention toward the margins of our communities, whether or not we’re in the midst of a bullying drama.  Do the paths of my weekly routines bring me into meaningful contact with those who are marginalized?  Do I have opportunities to become not just a volunteer service-provider, but a friend to those whose birth, story or circumstances place them at the edges of society? How can I become the sort of person who not only takes a personal risk in an intensely dramatic situation, but who also habitually seeks authentic relationships with the other?

No matter where we fall in relation to the center of our particular culture or sub-culture, we all have the potential to be consumed with acquiring whatever characterizes that center, whether money or beauty, taste or talent, fame or faith. I often need to remember to simply turn around and see who I’m not seeing — not so I can become the patronizing hero, but so we can both become more human as we learn to see the Christ who “plays in ten thousand places.”

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