Editor’s note: Throughout July, we’re hosting 31 Days with St. Ignatius, a month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality. In addition to the calendar of Ignatian articles found here, posts on dotMagis this month will explore the theme of “people for others.” This month marks the 50th anniversary of Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s famous address in which he challenged Jesuit school alumni to form what we now embrace as “people for others.”
I stood at the gas pump, fumbling for my wallet while my girls sat quasi-patiently in the back seat of the car.
We had briefly paused our homeward journey south on I-95. I’d gotten my credit card out of my wallet and was discerning whether or not I was at one of those gas stations that wanted customers to remove their cards quickly or keep them in place and…
“Hi, sir. I’m sorry to bother you, but…”
I glanced up. A woman had approached the man at the pump next to me. She barely finished the sentence before he waved her away.
I knew I was next. I hastily removed my card and stuffed it back in my wallet. As I did, a number of thoughts flashed through my mind.
I have cash. Saying I don’t would be a lie.
It doesn’t matter what she says; if she’s asking, I should respond. It’s not my concern what she does with the money.
My two little girls are watching.
“Hi, sir. I hate to bother you, but our car is out of gas, and my husband and I need to get to North Carolina and…”
“Sure, of course.” I was mumbling. “Just a minute.” I fumbled about in my wallet once more, pulled out the cash I had, and handed it over. “Here.”
“Thank you,” she said. She took the money and walked off.
I kept my eyes down, focused on my rapidly filling gas tank. I didn’t want to see where she walked off to. I didn’t want the temptation to judge whether or not my money was being put to good use.
It doesn’t matter. If she asked, she needed it. I don’t need to confirm any details.
I nodded to myself. I’d done the right thing. Met the need. Responded instinctively with charity.
“Who was that?” my eldest daughter asked. I’d climbed back into the driver’s seat.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“What did she want?”
“She just needed some money.”
And then, a slow realization crept in. I was so busy congratulating myself for doing the right thing that I’d failed to do the human thing. I’d handed over some cash, sure, but I hadn’t done it joyfully. I hadn’t met the woman’s eyes. I hadn’t learned anything of her story.
I admitted as much to my daughters. Then I said, “She needed some help. We all need some help now and again.”
The invitation to live as people for others isn’t a box-checking event. It’s a way of living. We don’t just hand out a fistful of cash and call ourselves men or women for others. It’s ongoing.
Part of that ongoing formation requires constant self-reflection. Today I gave instinctively, which is good! But I didn’t do so joyfully. Today I had a conversation, but I didn’t ask the person’s name.
Today I gave joyfully, but I need to do more reflection on the overarching structures in society that force some folks to live on the streets. Am I contributing to this injustice in some way?
These questions keep us human. They keep us seeing the humanity in one another.
“In our heart of hearts we know that what we have is nothing compared with what we are, what we can be, what we would like to be,” said Pedro Arrupe, SJ, in his “Men for Others” address. “We would like to be ourselves.” (15)
But we can never be our truest selves if we allow our lives to be governed by a constant desire to have and do more, to possess and cling tightly to resources that are meant to be shared. Rather, we re-humanize ourselves every time we let go of the “competitive rat-race” mentality. We make room for others—and ask why they’d been left out in the first place.
And we turn to one another in joy, in gratitude, in wonder, and in awe at the fullness of humanity.
Practice A Discipline of Noticing with Shemaiah Gonzalez. That’s today’s featured article in 31 Days with St. Ignatius. Then use the hashtag #31DayswithIgnatius on your favorite social media channels to share what you’re noticing this week.