Sometimes we catch glimpses of grace and truth in the unfolding realities of the world around us. Other times grace and truth come to us through the ugly realities of our own actions. Either way, we have an opportunity to learn. This poem was written in Istanbul, Turkey in 2009.
I saw you today.
Walking past my office window,
dumpster to dumpster with drag foot strides.
I saw you - all of you.
You two mothers pushing your finds in converted baby buggies,
babies slung over bent backs,
one tugging at the slack edge of a scarlet head scarf.
Your three and four year olds –
boys in rags and broken sandals –
sometimes behind, sometimes squirting ahead,
but always walking wearily,
wary of the ways of the back of your hand.
Harsh hands and harsher words carry them down dumpster lined streets.
The four year old’s mother
hands an unpeeled orange to his open hand,
rescued from refuse, but fails to peel it.
He makes a marvelous mess of pulp and juice before she,
the giver, the guardian,
slaps it from his greedy fingers.
On they walk,
on into their gypsy life,
their wandering life,
their hungry life,
And they disappear.
a father came.
A father with another four year old
and another converted baby buggy
and another journey down an Istanbul street,
dumpster to dumpster, market to market,
meal to meal to find to find.
He stopped the buggy behind a black Mercedes,
said stay – to the buggy and the boy –
and crossed to a waiting meal in the market trash.
The boy stayed,
lips moving – presumably for himself though I could not hear,
fingers fondling the days find.
But then a man approached,
middle aged and well dressed,
talking kind words to the boy, beckoning –
And the boy went, without qualm
quickly on his heels and into the next door store.
But then the father returned,
smiling at the two bruised apples and a smashed orange in his hands
to find the buggy but not the boy.
I saw it then.
I saw how much love he harbored in his tired heart for his son.
I saw it in the fear that crept into his eyes.
I saw it in the terror of his movements
and in the two new bruises the apples received
as they hit the concrete at his broken sandals.
I saw it in his hands, cupped around shouting lips –
I saw it in the flood of relief that his smiling son
gave him when he bolted from the store,
cookies clutched in jubilant hands.
A broken heart was not broken more.
The middle aged man walked past the two,
a silent Samaritan not letting left know what right had done.
On he walked,
on into his Muslim life,
his secular life,
his blessed life.
And he disappeared.
I walk home along the sea,
praying for this nation,
praying for grace and discernment to be salt and light to this land.
I stop at the store,
mindlessly buying four kinds of noodles,
not knowing what we’ll make with them.
My groceries and I make our way to the tunnel where
I will cross the tracks and head for home.
On a concrete bench
Sit two tired teenage boys.
“Mister, we’re hungry. Do you have any food? Do you have any money?”
I stop, surprised.
“Would you like some noodles?”
I offer to blank stares and then add –
“You can cook them at home.”
Their look tells me they may not have a home.
“We’re hungry mister. Do you have any money?”
I turn and I walk
And I cross the tracks
And walk from them
But the five lira in my pocket doesn’t disappear.
And the words of Jesus don’t disappear.
“You will always have the poor among you.”
It seems now more a command than a fact.
A command I’ve missed through a sham of fact.
If the poor are not among us,
Could it be we disobey?
I surely did today.
I surely did today.
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