What if life is really in the interruptions?
| posted 5/14/2008
I love poetry: to read it, to write it, to get lost in the language and the pictures. To savor the fragment that doesn't seem big enough or long enough, and yet it captures everything.
I love poetry, and in honor of National Poetry Month—and in keeping with the spirit of poetry, a shared, often oral tradition—I want to share with you a poem that has recently captured me. A poem that startled me with its haunting picture of simple generosity. Here it is:
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Night Train Through Inner Mongolia
Now the child is a runny-nosed stranger
you've finally decided to share your seat with,
and the whole thing keeps heaving into the dark.
The child sleeps unsweetly hunched against you,
your side is slowly stinging, he has wet himself,
so you do not move at all. I know you.
You sit awake, baffling about a quirky faith,
and do not shift until morning.
This is why you are blessed, I think, and usually chosen.
—by Anthony Piccione, from his book The Guests at the Gate
I want to savor those last lines. They pierce me. I am challenged by this unknown passenger who would sit so silently and generously; who would give up comfort and personal space.
Am I so willing?
I find sometimes there is very little flexibility around me. Almost everywhere I go and in almost everything I do, I have an agenda, a purpose, and a mission … and I hate to be interrupted. And I'm not just talking about when I'm working, or writing, or running an errand. Of course I hate being bothered during those times. But I'm even talking about the times when I'm at leisure: taking a walk, reading in a coffee shop, fishing at a lake, reading my Bible. Even in those times when I have no pressing timetable, I'm hostile to interruption. Please leave me alone, I have no room for your need.
I bypass the beggar to avoid the confrontation, I ignore the widower on his walk around the lake as I bait my hook and turn away, I open my book and pay no heed to the child in the plane seat next to me.
What is wrong with me? When did I become so selfish? How could I be so cold to the humanity that surrounds me?
I see no such hostility in the life of Jesus. In fact, I see only a welcoming of interruption. Consider his interactions with the woman at the well—a conversation he welcomed when he was hot, tired, thirsty and hungry. Or how about the centurion who stopped Jesus and begged for Jesus to heal his servant? Or the bleeding woman who touched his cloak for healing—he paused and called her out, not wanting to miss the opportunity for a deeper encounter.
I could go on.
Now, I realize that I can't stop for every person I encounter—that I can't sit and have lunch with everyone who asks me for money, or engage in a conversation with each person in the coffee shop. And I'm not Jesus, so I don't know when an interruption is an opportunity … and when it's just an interruption. But the question is: am I even willing to find out? Am I willing to let the Holy Spirit stop my schedule and interrupt my self-centeredness? Would I honestly welcome a strange and dirty child to huddle against me? Would I sit patiently if he made a mess on me?