No pictures, please

Warm days and cool nights had turned into the dead of summer. High humidity and high temperatures were compelling everyone on the street to move a little slower, to conserve energy, to guard their water intake. But recent events in the country, recent racially charged events in the country had already put folks on edge. They were wary and watchful. There was a palpable tension in the close air. Even those who were only peripherally touched by the heat and the news could feel it if they were willing to be open to others who were not so much like them.

I’ve had days when I have walked into my brother’s group home and I could feel that kind of tension. I have known those days when all it takes is for one person to step a little wide of the rather narrow line we all have to walk as we care not only for ourselves but for those around us. There are days when all we can do is concentrate on ourselves – not out of greed or selfishness – but with the intention of keeping us right with the world. Sometimes concentrating on ourselves offers the best outcome for those in our near proximity.

Breaking HeartsThat seems contrary to what I feel most of the time. Most of the time I believe we are actually called to look far beyond our own well-being. We are to set behind us those easy summons of selfishness and look, dig deeply for opportunities for selflessness.

In so doing, however, we must recognize that there are mental states, emotional conditions, and physical episodes that require those of us able to maintain our path on that narrow line of selflessness to exercise caution and sweeping care for others. So there are days I am required to help you. And there are days you are required to help me.

Sometimes that help is found only in silence, in maintaining a wide berth, in giving space, breathing space. That silence can be in listening intently, allowing you and allowing me to know that whether we agree or not, you and I care about one another.

But on this day in the dead of summer and in a state of drunkenness, one man of one color insults another man of another color. Certainly the sober one would be expected to maintain his fury and just walk away. But the sober one, the seemingly normal one, has issues of his own. All it takes to pull him off his narrow line this day is to be the object of scathing and profane language.

Fists began to fly. Others in the community stepped in to try to pull the two men apart. Others appeared to step up only for the show, for the diversion in their wearied lives; an opportunity for some distraction from their own narrow lines.

As some fought to separate the two men, I saw from the corner of my eye, a cell phone go up in the air and directed toward the skirmish on the floor. Its camera was rolling, I was certain. My hand went up to block it as I yelled, “No cameras!”

Certainly the man with the phone had a right to record what he was seeing. But not on these premises where generosity of spirit and food and material goodness is its reason for being. A disseminated recording of what turned out to be a relatively brief skirmish between two men who had been pulled off their narrow lines could sound a death knell for a safe place to gather.

Maybe, somehow, the man with the camera had some innate understanding of that even if he didn’t know why. He looked at me and immediately pulled the camera back down. Within seconds, the fight was over but still simmering. The drunken man was escorted from the premises by others in the community. The other, damaged by words, uttered promises to get his gun. But as he paced with clenched fists, he also was heard to say, “I know I need to work on my anger management.” He spent the better part of the next two hours seemingly driven to put things in order, stacking chairs neatly against the wall, mopping and re-mopping the entire room, and occasionally stopping to express his anger. He was working it off and he knew that’s what he needed to do to find his way back to that narrow line.

If there was an irony to it, it was that his compulsion to put things in order in the room in order to put things in order in his own life was a distraction, an annoyance to others in that space even to those who would ordinarily be expected to just understand. His desire to find his narrow line was threatening to pull others off of their own.

Sometimes, if we’re willing to tune in, we can feel the tension and know when it is best to just return to silence, to intently listening, to just move to another quadrant of the large air-conditioned room. Sometimes we can return to our card games or our books or a nap as we spread out over the length of several soft chairs.

It is always imperative to remember that we all walk a narrow line at times, depending on where we are, what our circumstances may be, and what is going on not only in our own minds, but the minds of those around us.

We don’t need photos or recorded footage for that. We can take stock of ourselves without turning it into a circus for others to see.

Cooler heads prevail.


13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14

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