I was driving to the grocery store the other day when the public radio network offered a story about motorcycle gangs, their initiation rituals, crimes and other things that make my safety-conscious self recoil. I listened with one ear as I parked my car.
As I walked into the lobby of the grocery store, I saw a young man, heavily-tattooed, wearing dirty jeans and balancing his motorcycle helmet on the counter in the lobby as he rearranged something. I was busy getting my cart and didn’t pay much attention. While I did not recoil at his presence I certainly didn’t regard him with God’s eyes of love.
I’m not sure what made me glance back as I steered my cart through the doors into the store. But when I looked at him, I saw what he was doing on the lobby counter. This “terrifying” young man was trying to repack a newly-purchased box of Pampers diapers into his backpack so he could drive it home.
Suddenly the radio stories and the silly fears for my own safety dropped away and instead of the motorcycle gang member of the news, I saw a young father – a parent of a newborn just like I had been. I imagined the familiar emergency at home that led to his visit to the store. As I wandered the aisles of the store, I could imagine the conversations at home and the love for his child that got him out on such a hot day to run this errand. In that moment of grace, he became a different person in my eyes.
It made me wonder how often I pass people in my everyday life and see nothing but my own projection of stereotypes and unfounded fears. Why do I first see the things in others that I perceive as separating us instead of noticing what we have in common?
God has placed people in my life who are my brothers and sisters. That day I could only ask for eyes and a heart that were more open to those around me. I asked simply to see others rather than myself first.