I took my brother to the Veteran’s Hospital in Atlanta for some medical procedures. Luckily he had an early appointment and we were able to get there in time to find some parking. One time I spent 45 minutes looking for a place, until, finally, fortune shined down upon me and found a spot. After his appointment, we needed something to eat. He wanted eggs. So on the way home we stopped off at a Waffle House in Decatur on Covington Hwy.
In fact, the Waffle House we went to was just down the street from the original one that is now a Waffle House museum.
In Georgia, there are Waffle Houses everywhere. In Conyers, near the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, we have four that I know of, but I don’t go there often. While my brother had his eggs along with biscuits and gravy, I had a grilled chicken sandwich, which was delicious, and the coffee was black and strong.
I love the ambience of Waffle House. It’s a piece of a Southern culture that I love. I like to watch the short order cooks do their job, some of them are masters at taking in the constant barrage of orders and keeping everything straight. Orders are written down by the waitresses, shouted to the cook, then penned next to his large cooking area. The waitresses are down-t0-earth types, always friendly and attentive. I’m not saying the food is the best, or even good for you, but from time to time it’s a welcoming and familiar place to go.
As we left, there was a man in front of the restaurant on a bicycle. He was asking for money from two men who were coming in. They gave him something. He was walking past me, and I noticed that he had on a prosthetic leg from the knee down. I said “Hello” and we talked for a bit. He seemed rough, but not hardened, a man who was having a very hard time and just trying to survive.
I asked him if I could also give him some money. He seemed surprised at that and said, “Yes.” I gave him something and he thanked me profusely. So we talked a bit more. He lost his leg about five years ago due to diabetes and being homeless. He had lived at home but did not get along with his father, and moved out. His father must had been elderly, for the man seemed to be in his 50s.
He told me that he did not drink or do drugs, and to tell you the truth, even though he looked haggard, he did not have the look of one who was a drinker or a drug addict. Before we left, he asked me if I go to church, and I said, “Yes.” He gave me an exhortation to continue going to church and took off on his bike.
I couldn’t help but think what life might be like for him. He did not seem overwhelmed, but was just getting through the day the way all of us do. As my brother and I continued down Covington Hwy, I noticed him riding down the sidewalk at a good clip, so he must have been in pretty good shape.
When I first saw him, my impulse was to label him: ‘Drunk’ and ‘drug addict’ came to mind. But I caught myself and tried to encounter him as a simple human being, the same as me. Labels protect us from the messy humanity of others. Labels allow the labeler to box the person before them in a neat little package, and then after reducing their humanity to a mere stereotype we forget them. Yet this man was human, struggling, and a true child of God.
If the Gospels are to be taken seriously, then when that man looked at me, his eyes were the eyes of Christ Jesus. If I labeled him, reduced him to a ‘thing’ then I was also doing it to Jesus Christ.
The world is full of people who are considered below contempt because they are poor, mentally ill, or just down on their luck. There are shysters who spend their days lying to those who offer help, taking advantage of their generosity and caring; thus, making it harder for those in true need to get the temporary help that they need. Yet I will not allow those cheaters to keep me from helping others. If I did, the scoundrels of the world would win, and I would have to shut off my heart from those whom I can help. It’s a struggle to love and accept others, and I often fail in that endeavor more often that I would like to admit.
If I should start to label segments of mankind as unworthy, it would only be a matter of time until that they would become a multitude, each person looking at me with the eyes of Christ Jesus. God’s love and mercy, as shown us through Jesus Christ, is taking my entire lifetime for me to understand, and I am still learning, even at a humble Waffle House.