A Small Smile
As a blond, good-natured, suburban girl from Minnesota, city life has been an overstimulating experience for me. But as my coworker stated, being authentic is all I can do in this town, therefore I continue smiling as I venture across New Haven.
Last week, I attended an Episcopal Sunday service at Yale followed by a free dinner. As I stood in line behind a man wearing a navy crewneck sweater and stained gray pants, I noticed the stale smell of spoiled clothing. As he struggled to scoop salad with one of the salad tongs, I encouraged him to use both hands. He looked at me, set his multiple bags of what I presumed were his only belongings aside, and took up my suggestion.
We began chatting and he introduced himself as Sam* after requesting to know my name. It was extremely difficult for me and others around me to understand him. Constantly, I asked Sam to repeat himself, which became frustrating for both of us. As Sam reached the end of the food line, he said something that was uncharacteristically clear: “Thank you for talking to me, Maddie.” My heart broke in that moment for this man with the overused shopping bags because rarely do strangers thank me for interacting with them. It seemed that he was accustomed to being overlooked or ignored.
Sam then asked if he could sit with my friends and I brought him to the table with my roommates. Throughout the meal, Sam continued to jumble and slur his words yet he was friendly, funny, and someone I found much more approachable than the other students at Yale. Within this conversation, I discovered his full name and his academic achievements. Sam was a Yale graduate as well as published poet.
However, as the conversation persisted, Sam became more confusing. He offered me jewelry and became seemingly upset when I tried to politely reject his offer. He began to talk of packs of wolves and I lost him. I no longer could pinpoint the direction of our dialogue; his eyes darted around the room. Others at the table either pretended not to notice or were too wrapped up in their conversations to care. I excused myself and bid farewell to Sam, uncertain if he would ever remember my presence. Later that week, I sat near the back of the city bus and saw him again, but did not get the chance to say hello.
Out of curiosity, I searched his name desiring to read his poems. I came upon an article from the Daily Nutmeg, a local New Haven Magazine. Everything Sam had told me coherently was true. I felt my throat clench tightly and resisted tearing up thinking of his tragically beautiful life. Mental illness can afflict anyone at any point in their journey. There are certain triggers and genetic predisposing, but we each have demons that manifest themselves differently in our lives. Sam deserves respect, love, and acceptance just as much as any other human. Even when someone is perceived as undesirable or unkempt by others, God still calls us to be merciful. As 1 John 3:16-18 (NRSV) states:
“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister* in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
For this year, I aspire to learn to love more fully with truth and action, even towards those who may be deemed abrasive, unresponsive, or callous by society. Through my role as a case manager, a roommate, and a resident of New Haven, I want to live out love with truth and action. Whether this action is just a small smile or the authentic truth of being an amicable woman from Minnesota, I am called to love all people fully and completely. My prayer is that I can live out this call and I encourage others to do the same.
*Name is changed to preserve the identity of this individual