The twenty-four-year-old man was being interviewed this morning on the radio. I sat in my car, listening, watching the children being unloaded in the car pool lane. Did any of them feel like others had given up on them? Did they feel thrown away, too?
This young man talked about being in 50-52 foster homes throughout his childhood. That’s right: 50-52. Some were abusive, some better than others. He was scared, didn’t know how to act, accustomed to being abused, and when he became a problem, it was easier to pass him on to the next home than deal properly and lovingly with it. On his eighteenth birthday, he graduated from the foster care system and was on his own. After a childhood like this, is it any wonder that he ended up on the streets, tossed out like debris by the roadside?
In the last few years, he’s turned his life around; he works with foster children and is engaged to be married. But not all stories like this have a happy ending, and that troubles me.
What happens when people give up on those they see as worthless?
From a safe distance, this looks appalling. It is. And in a story like this young man’s, it’s obvious that he wasn’t treated right. But throwing another person aside doesn’t happen only in cases of abuse. It happens all the time in subtle ways, and all of us are guilty of it.
It’s as subtle and insidious as pretending not to see them in the school hallway or church sanctuary. Gossiping in a friend’s ear. Being outwardly nice, inwardly judgmental. Slightly crinkling my nose, as if they smelled like the trash I think they are.
- The woman abandoned by the father of her child, struggling with the stigma of single parenthood.
- The child neglected by his parents while they pursue their career goals or hobbies.
- The fellow student who doesn’t fit in, that some ridicule for her appearance, others dismiss as “she’ll never be anything” and still others bully because she ended up on the bottom level of the social hierarchy.
- The office worker who shows evidence of mental illness, and co-workers make a list of the odd things he says to himself.
- The church member who isn’t as “holy” as the holier-than-thou members.
I look at the children being dropped off in the car pool lane, clutching lunch boxes and backpacks, and wonder if some feel worthless. How many of them feel like people have given up on them, even though they’re only five or six years old? Teachers or parents look at their report cards or behavior and sigh, I give up.
I look around the sanctuary, seeing people with their church smiles and “how-are-you-oh-I’m-fine” conversations, and wonder who feels unwelcome. Who feels shunned by the person next to them on the pew? Perfect people look at the others’ track records—divorced, addicted, unwed parents, a past riddled with mistakes—and sit smugly with the bulletin in their hands, thinking, I’m glad I’m not like that. (And then sing “Amazing Grace” with gusto, of course.)
I glance–not look–at the homeless people under a bridge, careful not to make eye contact, and wonder what is wrong with them. Go get a job already. Stop with the drugs and alcohol and you might be someone decent.
When I do this, I’ve thrown others aside like I might throw away a gum wrapper, carelessly and without a second thought.
What would it take for me to see each person as worthwhile rather than worthless?