Thursday, July 17, 2008

Failing a Spiritual Test

Last night, it happened. A spiritual test. It couldn't have been more obvious. And yet, I failed. Normally, when I do good things, you won't hear of it here because I believe that the good we do others is not to brag about. When we do good, it's enough that God, the other person, and ourselves know. Besides, it's a pet peeve of mine when people list the good things they do in an effort to impress people.

On the flip side, I'm going to write about an event that happened last night that I deeply regret. And I felt the regret immediately. It might make me look like a schlump or whatever, and yes, if you want to pile on the criticism, feel free because I deserve it. So, why write about it? It's part of my desire for redemption. Confession to others so that you can hold me responsible if I fail again. Also, I want readers to know that we are tested spiritually all the time and maybe it might help you make a different decision than I did.

Here goes...

Last night, I went to a booksigning at Powells bookstore for Barbara Ehrenreich, writer of "Nickel and Dimed" and the current "This Land is Their Land." It was the largest gathering I've ever seen for a lecture/booksigning at Powells. She was hilarious and so right on target with a lot of things about our country. I'll write more about her for Sunday's post. However, I left feeling kind of frustrated about America because she said something I believe more and more. She told the audience to skip college or not push your children to go. She believes its the biggest scam going on. What she said really hit home: "why get into college loan debt for the chance of landing a job that pays $30,000?" That's where I am now...making EXACTLY the same amount of money that I made in 1996. However, back in 1996, I was DEBT-FREE (no credit card debt or college loan debt) and I owned a car (no car payments). So, I was better off financially before college. After college (it has been 8 years since I finished), I struggle along in low wages with a lot of debt. Had I known I would be in this situation, I never would have gone to college. My whole purpose in going to college was because EVERYONE told me that a college degree gets you the better paying job. Where the hell are they?

So, I walked home with these thoughts in my head about how bad our country has become and how I wish our government would do more for poor people. I also have thoughts about homeless people and how to solve the problem of homelessness when I decide to go out of my way to the downtown McDonalds to grab a quick bite to eat. Outside, a man approached me. His clothes are dirty, he smells bad, and his hard-scrabbled face had sunken cheeks and hollow eye sockets. He looked awful and seemed on the verge of tears as he explained how hungry he was. He said that he was on the verge of throwing up if he didn't get any food in him, so he asked if I could buy him one of the double cheeseburgers for $1. I said, "Okay" and went inside while he waited outside smoking a cigarette.

Inside, I see a line of ten people that's not moving and only one cash register open. I wait for a couple minutes before getting frustrated and deciding that it's just not worth it. I never wait in fastfood restaurants if the line has more than three people in it. McDonalds is definitely not worth waiting in line for anything they offer. So, I walked back outside and apologized to the man that I won't be able to get him a cheeseburger because the line was too long and not moving. He asked for spare change, but I rarely carry cash (I'm such a debit card guy these days), so I had none to give him. As I crossed the street, he yelled at me, including using the F-word and the whole time, I'm thinking, "I'm such a scumbag." I wasn't angry that he yelled at me because I so deserve it. A man approaches me for food and because the line is too long and I don't want to wait, I basically give up and walk away. I felt bad about it, but not bad enough to buy food at another fastfood place or 7/11 along the way and return to the man.

What does that say about me? Honestly, I didn't feel good about the whole thing. I'm still beating myself over it. If there is a hell, I so deserve to go there for turning my back on a guy in desperate need.

How do I know it's a spiritual test?

It was obvious to me, when I had a sudden urge to go to McDonalds, when it was several blocks out of the way as I was walking home from the booksigning. Then to be approached by a guy who really, truly did look like he needed some food. To top it off, I've never seen that McDonalds have that many people in line before. It was between 9 and 9:30 P.M. Where did everyone come from? In the past, when I got the urge to eat at that McDonalds (always a late night craving), if there's a line, I always take it as a sign that I shouldn't eat there, so I usually comply. If I wouldn't wait in a line of three people to buy food for myself, then this was a true test: would I wait in a non moving line of ten people for another person who was severely hungry? And I was that selfish that I did not want to wait.

So, there you have it. An obvious spiritual test of what I stand for and my compassion failed in the face of my selfishness. Striving to be better and show a greater willingness to help another person in need doesn't seem enough to make up for the sin I committed last night. I have a feeling that man's sunken eyes and plea for food is going to haunt me for a long time.

And because I believe in a life review that we all experience during our first moments in the heavenly realm, I know that this situation is going to be replayed, where I experience that man's point of view. I'm not looking forward to it, quite honestly. It will be very painful. Deservedly so.

Go ahead...lash on the criticism. I know it's deserved. I failed one of the most important tests we are given in life. I hope you won't make the same mistake as me. If I could do it over, I would've waited in line, no matter how long it took and I would've bought the man a full meal and maybe had a conversation with him. But last night, I wasn't in the mood to talk with a stranger or to wait in line. I guess I'm no where near the person I envision myself to be. A painful lesson that will remain with me for a long time, I think.


d/b/c/m said...

i think you're pretty hard on yourself, afterall, your intentions were good. but i can't judge others, right or wrong, it's your life.

Margie's Musings said...

Nicholas, I too think you are too hard on yourself. Your intentions were good and if the man stayed outside smoking a cigarette, he must have had money at some time in the near past. Cigarettes are not cheap. He spent money he could have used for food on smoking.

Perhaps you did not fail the test.

Mustang said...

Please don't be so hard on yourself. This is how I have to think about it....the cigarettes are probably more important to him. I see these people in D.C. outside my hosptial EVERYDAY. And trust me, it is the SAME people. They ALWAYS have a cigarette. Being a extremely caring and compassionate nurse, it is hard to pass by them. I think you know when someone truly needs the help. So, give yourself a break. The man cussed you out afterall. jenny

Sansego said...

Thanks for your thoughts.

About the cigarette, he could've bummed it off someone or picked off a half-smoked one from some ashtray somewhere. That wasn't the issue for me.

I see a lot of homeless people and beggars, but he stuck out and I feel like I failed to live up to my ideals in that moment, all because I didn't want to wait in a long line. It's not like I was in a hurry to go anywhere but home.

I won't be beating myself up over this, though. I just need to try harder next time.

Margie's Musings said...

When I was working in the FAST (Financial Assistance Short Term) office, I saw many people who wanted their rent or utilities paid but had a pack of cigarettes in their shirt pocket. I always told them that we would pay them once but as long as they could afford to smoke they could afford to pay their own utilities.

I also told them not to try to fool me. I could spot a smoker by smell from 100 yards.

j janell cf said...

i think you're awesome for thinking about it. really. and i agree with you--it doesn't matter if he was smoking or if he yelled at you or whatever--we're not responsible for how others act, only for how WE act. i also agree that you're too hard on yourself, but at the same time i admire it. it's how we improve. sometimes low moments give us renewed desire and strength to be better.