Those Who Walk Among Us
Article written by Diana Turner-Forte who serves as a dance and movement instructor at the Monarch Creative Arts & Community Center.
Two thousand years ago, the ancients used the Hebrew word, “anawim” to describe lepers, prostitutes, the lame and destitute and those afflicted in some way. This generalized category excluded parts of the population considered unfit to intermingle with the rest of society. In a deeper sense, “anawim” were those living totally dependent on God because no one else cared. Today, they are often the people we look down upon to make us feel better about ourselves.
In our self-righteous, technologically advanced, self-centered age, our sensibilities have somehow gotten skewed as we classify people with an assortment of words like disadvantaged, disabled, illegals, autistic, at-risk and addicts. To justify these labels they are said to be politically correct, but what we are really saying is, "you don’t belong here, you are not part of us."
This is the way our so called civilized society pushes people to the fringes. And we do this every day. The people who bag our groceries, clean our houses, offices and cars, manicure our lawns, repair our clothes, serve our dinners, could be “anawim.” With their gentle spirits and courage they walk among us, and our lives intersect if we dare to witness the sacredness of their presence in our lives.
At the grocery store, some months ago, my groceries were painstakingly and neatly packed by one of those outsiders. That incident may not have stayed with me had I not been approached the next day by the same person who packed my bag inquiring if my groceries were okay. A bit startled, I replied, “Yes, yes, of course—thank you.” I had never really paid much attention to how my groceries were packed. Thinking back, however, there was something different. They were loaded by someone who moved in an unhurried manner, one item at a time, intensely focused on the task at hand. When he was done, my recyclable bag was clean around the edges, there weren’t any bulges or sharp corners sticking out. Rather than collapsing from internal disarray, my bag was standing up, like a set of blocks and the bagger (smiling) was holding the straps, enabling me to easily pick up and carry my package. I knew the face from somewhere else.
Packing groceries, organizing grocery carts in the parking lot and driving them inside is just part of one of his jobs. His evening work was where we had originally met. He cleans the 4,000 sq. ft. facility where I teach dance classes. The tasks are done meticulously: commodes, sinks and floors are sparkling after his labors.
When I greet him with a smile, his face lights up, his eyes sparkle behind the horn-rimmed glasses, he removes the headset from his ears, and we chat about his other job. He is kind, respectful and listens as we engage in dialogue. I have met an authentic human being.
Arriving quietly in the evenings, he promptly engages in the mundane, often dirty duties, bringing cleanliness and freshness to a building that has been well-used during the day. He vacuums, fills the oversize bucket with water and mops the floor, cleans the commodes, washes the sinks, stacks chairs and tables in their proper places, removes dust bunnies from the hall, shoe streaks and paper bits; all with the efficiency and precision of a finely-trained engineer. With an easy, sauntering walk and quiet dedication, he goes about his work.
My life is different through interacting with him. The economy, government shutdown, the latest movies, updated iPhones and iPads all pale in comparison when meeting a person like him who has done a simple deed. And it is just that recognition, the gratitude of those moments that makes the beauty of “anawim” so profoundly moving.
I can be assured that when I arrive at my space on Saturday morning, the front door mat will be set squarely at the entranceway; the hallways, chastened by mops and detergent will be glistening; the bathrooms spotless with mirrors fingerprint-free, proof of the hard labor of a human being working late into the night. No titles or accolades befall this person. He is attentive to the duties assigned him. His name is Daniel. When I say “Hello, Daniel” his face brightens into a glowing smile, and my life is richer, appreciating the work he does and telling him so. We part, my soul has been lifted up, and my heart has been opened. I have received the gift of his presence in my life.