By The Reverend Justo González, II, M.Div., M.S.S.A., M.A.P.M.
Where I am I do not know. I am only aware that I have yet to arrive to where I desire to be. Time moves on while on the F train. People leave. Others come in. No big deal that happens every few minutes. This is the ebb and flow world that occurs from stop to stop. Ebb. Flow. Change. Mind your business.
The F train is a mystical space that moves dreams, people, sadness, joy, business women and men, laborers, students, the elderly, vacationers, the poor and others as it does every day. I enter the train at Jackson Heights, Queens to travel to Manhattan. I’m going uptown. Where are you going on the journey of life?
The train is rattling like a good NYC subway. People are chatting. Music is blasting in people’s ears loud enough that many of us can hear it too. Some people read books and others newspapers. Some are quiet. Others laugh as if they are alone. I wonder what brings this man such joy that he laughs consistently with a loud belly laugh while on the phone.
Everyone seems pre-programmed to mind their own business. The mysterious subway voice announces a stop and says something else that almost no one listens to as they ride. Ebb. Flow. Change. Mind your business.
It’s hard to follow the rule of mind your business when you hear, “Excuse me. Excuse me. Can I have your attention please? Please forgive me for interrupting your train ride. I am Roberto D. I am a young man who is paying today for the mistakes I’ve made in the past. If you can spare anything to help me, I would appreciate it. I am homeless.” He puts his left hand into the dirty pants that he’s wearing and pulls out an old paper cup. It is folded at the top assuring that a barrier is in place preventing the loss of any of the scarce resources that have been given to him. He begins to walk the car and rattles his cup. I hear the sounds of change from within the cup.
No one. I mean no one looks into his face. There is no movement to pull out change or to give a dollar. This tall skinny young man seems to lose a few inches and he slumps in defeat and leaves to go to the next car. Defeated and deflated are the two D’s we leave him with that afternoon. It’s a shame that we didn’t gift him with a great D like Dignity especially during this time of lent and the coming of Easter. This is a time of hope, resurrection, transformation and great expectations.
James is still talking to me. I, on the other hand, can only hear, “I am Roberto D. I am a young man who is paying today for the mistakes I’ve made in the past.” I hear his words as a mantra. “Paying today for the mistakes I’ve made in the past.”
Do you hear what the Still speaking God is saying?
Robert D. is all of us. He is me. He is you. He is our present reality and if we’re lucky he was only our past. Roberto D. is you. We have all been at one time or another [and some of us presently are] men and women who are paying the price today for the decisions that we have made in the past. For example, all those secrets that you keep inside. The fears that you have about others finding out that you are not or were not a saint. Fears of inadequacy. Fears of failure. We fear that own issues might come to light and that they might be worse than his. Fear keeps us stuck. STUCK IS A HORRIBLE PLACE.
FEAR NOT! Roberto D. is also a man in motion. He is power. He is integrity. He should be thriving and yet his life shows despair too. In other words, he’s a flawed human being. At our core we are Roberto D.
I know that I have been Roberto D. My problems and issues might not have been the same as his but I too was a young man who had to pay for the mistakes of my past. We are all people in motion seeking to move from the pains of the past to a new and better present. When we acknowledge this compassion blooms.
There is no doubt that most judged him harshly. Some thought, “How dare he ask for help.” How dare we? It so easy for us to judge the lives of others yet we get really pissed if others judge us. Many desire to be honored and respected yet they do not want to acknowledge that Roberto D’s life has worth and dignity just like theirs. How can we ignore the hurt and brokenness of others when we are called to “love our neighbors as ourselves”?
Only when we step outside of our self-righteous attitudes will we be able to look openly and honestly at ourselves. In seeing, recognizing and acknowledging our own brokenness we can begin to heal and offer grace to others. His story and pleas for dignity might even gift us with the ability to see where we too have failed miserably. Maybe through him we can touch the pain of yesterday or the present pain of today and affirm our own worth and dignity as children of God. His life and honesty offer us the opportunity to look inward and find the love of God for us and our circumstances.
Roberto D. came into my life on the F train. He was a beggar. He modeled truth telling, vulnerability, integrity and openness. He left as my teacher.
Who is Roberto D? He is the Rabbi that led me to reflect, consider and learn. He also invites me to speak. This is my truth. I am Justo G. I am a man who is paying today for the mistakes I’ve made in the past.
Can you claim the Robert D. within yourself? I am (Insert your name). I am a _________ (man or a woman) who is paying today for the mistakes I’ve made in the past. I invite you now to sit with that truth. Maybe, just maybe, you will focus more on your own resurrection from the past or the present and judge less.