Thursday, October 28, 2010

Coffee. Christ. Compassion.

After Penny's and my workout this morning, I indulged in one of my spiritual disciplines:

I went to my favorite coffee shop to enjoy a bold, black coffee and to read The New York Times.

I was content at my table until a man with a long, tangled beard came in the front door. He went to the merchandise displays, mumbled something to himself, and then sat down near me.

He started thumping the table with his hands and talking to himself. Very loudly.

No, he hadn't had a large coffee with six shots of espresso.

Something else was going on. He started to curse his partner, invisible to me, across the table from him.

By now, my contentment had changed to concern.

I'm sensitive to people with illnesses, especially mental illnesses. The ill should receive the very best care available, but I know that many of them don't because they can't afford it; they don't have insurance for doctor visits or hospital stays or money for medicines.

The man at the coffee shop might be one of these people. Or he might have medical insurance, which paid for treatment in the hospital and as an out-patient and for his medicines, but for some reason, he's stopped taking them; it happens a lot.

I didn't ask him about his situation. Uneasy because of his behavior, I left. I went outside, found a table, and finished my coffee and paper, glancing from time to time through the window to see where the man was and what he was doing.

At one point, I noticed him standing near the counter--a small cup of coffee in his hand, talking with someone. Not the invisible person this time, but one of the staff.

After the man left, I went inside and asked my friend who works there about the man, whether he'd had any trouble with him.

"I gave him a sample," my friend said. "And I talked with him a little. And he left."

"You handled that well," I told him, embarrassed at how I'd reacted to the man.

This morning, I responded to that mentally ill man with fear and suspicion. The next time, I want to respond as my friend did--and as Christ would--with compassion.

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