I AM IMAGINING that I am somewhere else; a place I have been before. I am in a particular neighborhood in a particular foreign country. I am walking in the dirt streets—streets where cars are driven only by outsiders. There are no houses here—not in the sense I usually think of houses. The local people live in tiny dirt-floored shacks built of wooden shipping pallets and cardboard boxes. Each spring some of the babies here will die—their little lungs filled with the dust which blows in the hot and stifling wind. It is a place of daily struggle, and even the dogs roaming the streets are famished, walking everywhere with their heads held low, and their tails between their legs.

Without me asking, a resident has taken a few precious coins and walked to a store to buy a bottle of soda so I do not have to drink his contaminated water. Food is served to me, and none of the locals eat of it until they know I have eaten first. I am momentarily confused when they tell me they will carry any leftover food to another neighborhood, and give it to “the poor.” With this I remind myself that all things are relative, and immediately I am ashamed and angry, for it is just like me to placate myself with logic in the face of others’ deaths. I try very hard for a few hours, but I cannot escape feeling opulent and fat and selfish. The people here never say that I am. They do not even seem to think I am. They are too gracious. They are too humble. Maybe if I was more like them, I would not begin to hate myself. But this is precisely the problem.

Little boys and girls, young children like my own, run up to me with bright eyes and happy smiles, seemingly unaware, thank God, that somewhere there might be a different kind of life—a life they will never taste. I am thinking, in sadness and a tinge of fear, that maybe my being here is enough to tell them so. I feel uneasy. Perhaps I am like the introduction of a virus to these people. I feel as though I am a contaminant. Perhaps I will infect and spoil them all.

In the middle of all this a man explains to me in whispered tones that most of the mothers in this neighborhood are young, and single, and prostitutes. I do not shudder. I do not feel repulsed. I do not even blink at his words. He walks away, and I go to stand on a corner, surveying the scene around me. I have a single thought, and I tell myself to never forget it. It is not a thought of disgust, nor judgment, nor piety. It is something else entirely. I think somberly and lucidly, and I know why Jesus didn’t judge the prostitutes.

IT IS DIFFICULT to explain, and in our normal, daily pride we have little understanding. We are too focused upon a naïve list of moral rights and wrongs to ever think of mitigating circumstance. We never think that perhaps there are things more important—things deeply profound which so greatly overshadow what we call wrong that the wrong, per se, ceases to matter. We have never seen life reduced to its most basic forms, nor gazed so intently at the lonely and the hurting and the struggling that their pain becomes our pain, to such a degree that we see ourselves in them and we see them in ourselves, and we ache with an ethereal pain which brings tears to our eyes and wrenches our bowels until we want nothing—absolutely nothing—but to love these people in their suffering. We do not know what it is like to look from such a vantage point and see that within them is a courage, an honesty, and an integrity we may never know. We do not think it is possible that they know something we do not. We cannot bear the idea that perhaps, just maybe, the unclean and the marginalized and the outcasts of this world are the blessed ones. We are incapable of considering that they may be closer to God than we are.

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