Absolute Attention

I was alone in the office today. It was 10:00 a.m. COVID-19 restrictions have isolated all staff members. The gate bell rang.  “Who’s it?” I thought. “A Federal Express delivery!”  Expecting a package from Jamaica. “The water company delivery man?” “A bearer?” “Who could it be this time?”

I recused myself from the computer and piles of papers which were now my day time companions. Masked myself. Grabbed the keys for the door, fearing the front office door would close behind me leaving me stranded outside for hours as happened once, twice and thrice. 

I was greeted courteously by a gentleman, perhaps over 60 years old, casually dressed in khaki pants and a floral shirt that could fit two more persons his size. He stood erect with the aid of a wooden and worn walking stick. A six feet high wrought iron gate separated us. COVID physical distancing protocol in place. Greeted politely, he handed me a gift of his personal story – his story of need.

Initial thoughts!  What’s his motives?  Is he genuinely in need? Is he lying to me as others have prior to this? His story volcanically erupts from a con artist text book. No, Don!  Listen!  Give him a chance.  Let him tell his story.  We all have stories – genuine or not.

What would Jesus do? The thought energetically jumping up and down like a gymnast.  Like judges keenly watching a performing gymnast, I zeroed in on him. But the distraction of the noisy thoughts of a possible con artist intervened several times. Like the judge I resettled and refocused on the man. I must allow him to perform – to tell his story.

Eventually!  Eventually, he finished telling his story.  Was it genuine? Was it true?  I still had no answer. I sensed not! He wanted cash. I didn’t have cash. I had food. Do you want some food?  He refused. Did this confirm my suspicion that standing the required COVID protocol distance away from me was a genuine man telling a genuine story?  Still no confirmation. 

He departed with a disappointed face. His mission unaccomplished, it appeared. I returned to office where the just concluded encounter became a restless prisoner in my thoughts. Did I do what Jesus would do? 

Did  I listen attentively to his story? Simone Weil reminded me that “Absolute attention is prayer.” 

Did I afford this gentleman absolute attention?

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