It’s early Sunday afternoon, and two of the three sandwiches I brought with me are burning a hole in my backpack.
The third one would, too, if it could. But I secretly want to reserve it for myself.
Straight ahead of me, on the sidewalk alongside the transit mall, I espy a man in a motorized wheelchair. Instantly I decide that he looks like he could use a sandwich.
I speed up my pace to catch up with him. I am hoping he will turn left to cross Olive Street toward the Novella Cafe, a place that’s popular with people like him.
Nope, he waits for the light to continue on down Olive.
No, wait! He turns to cross Olive in the direction of the library. I catch up to him.
“Hello,” I say, leaning down to catch his eye. “How are you doing today?” I ask.
“Well, I am, today. I don’t know about the doing part.”
“It’s kind of hard, isn’t it,” I say.
“Yeah, it could be better.”
I heard this same comment a few days ago, from someone else who lives at the margins. They used to say, “Oh, it’s not that bad.”
I cut to the chase. “Could you use a sandwich?”
My friend’s eyes light up.
“I have two sandwiches,” I say. “Could you use two sandwiches? They are small, just homemade bread and peanutbutter.”
He beams like a child, revealing an interesting arrangement of teeth.
“They’re easy to eat,” I say encouragingly as we cross Olive. I slip off my backpack and unzip the larger pouch. I hand him the two sandwiches. He reaches up to receive them.
My name is Maria,” I say.
“My name is Mark.”
Instinctively we both reach out a hand. For a moment I hold his bony hand in mine.
“Mark,” I say, “can I get you a cup of coffee?”
Well, that would be great, Mark says, “to wash down the sandwiches.”
I get him situated at a table in Novella, and I order a coffee.
Mark could be my father—so frail, the way I remember my father toward the end.
Mark, I suddenly realize, could be the old man, forty-four years ago, who climbed four flights of stairs to the flat where I was living in Copenhagen. Someone else’s flat, in midmorning, and I am there alone. I answer the knock at the door.
I don’t know a lot of Danish, but I know enough to understand what this old man with bad hair and watery eyes and an oversized moth-eaten coat is asking.
“Kan jeg bede om en kop kaffe?” he asks. Can I beg of you a cup of coffee.
Can I beg of you … a cup of coffee?
The man is pathetically disheveled, fragile, with no place to hide his stinking poverty.
My heart breaks. No one should have to beg for a cup of coffee.
Still, it’s not my flat. It’s not my heirloom silver that he might pilfer. Yet if he has other intentions, I could easily break him in two.
“I’m sorry,” I say in simple English. “I don’t speak Danish.”
I feel disgusted by my feigned incomprehension.
He looks understandingly, tenderly, at me. I cannot return his gaze.
I gently close the door. And then I weep.
I am confronted with the unexpected. And I respond with an excuse.
I am endlessly bombarded with invitations to do good, to be better, to step beyond myself, to engage with grace, to engage with the world at my door, the world on the sidewalk in front of me, now, on a Sunday afternoon.
Jesus, everywhere, knocking at the door of my heart, begging a cup of coffee, grateful for a sandwich.
Jesus, today, cleverly disguised as a brother named Mark, with bony hands, an interesting arrangement of teeth, and an unexpected blessing of second chances for a sister he just met.
Mary Sharon Moore writes and speaks nationwide on
the nature of God’s calling in our times.