Saturday, March 10, 2018

Those who vomit

I had been away for two weeks caring for my new grandbaby Justin during the days while his parents were at work, and it was time for me to head home. So, this morning I caught the E Train in Queens to make my way toward Penn Station and my train back to Baltimore. After hauling my suitcase onto a crowded subway, I struggled to keep my balance as I held onto a rail and tried not to fall into the woman beside me. I needed to find a seat.

Spying an unoccupied space at the other end of the car, I worked my way through the people until I finally plopped myself down, holding onto my suitcase like a cello between my legs. What a relief!

Now, if I had looked more carefully, I might have noticed that people were standing all around, but no one had taken this seat. What I did notice was the man sitting next to this space. He was all bundled up in a shabby hat and coat with just a bit of his scraggly, bearded face showing. He appeared to be sleeping. I had seen others like him riding the subways in winter, people who rested their bodies, protected from the cold, as they settled in for the day. He was homeless, but harmless, and I wasn’t above sharing a seat with him.

Then I it hit me. Right in the face. The man reeked of vomit. The kind that smells like rancid dairy products and is so pungent that it burns right through your lungs and pokes at your gut. It was all I could do to keep from gagging. No wonder the seat was empty. And here I was. Lord, have mercy. I quickly began breathing through my mouth.

As I sat there, I noticed how the people around me were reacting to the smell. A family of tourists with two teenagers got on the subway and stood directly in front of me. I could see them whispering to one another, looking at the man with disgust. Yes, he was disgusting. I agreed. I felt trapped and was, at that very moment, searching for alternative seating.

Then I started to think about how I had spent the past two weeks. My nostrils had become accustomed to the smell of vomit… not nearly as pungent as this, but like a diluted version of it, also with the distinct smell of spoiled milk. It was always on my clothes. Sometimes I was so soaked with it that I had to shower, but as soon as I got all cleaned up, *boom*, it happened again. At three months, Justin is like a lot of babies. He spits up pert near every time he eats. I started to get used to it; I’d just wipe the vomit off my clothes and go on.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining here, because I’m not. I love that little guy to pieces, and that’s just what he does right now.

I wondered, if I could have compassion for Justin’s vomit, could I not also have compassion for this homeless man’s vomit? And then, I thought about how, at one time, this man was a baby just like my sweet Justin. He may have been held in the arms of his Nana who loved him unconditionally. She may have dreamed of all that he might one day become, never imagining this moment for him on the E Train, riding toward Manhattan, surrounded by people who found him disgusting.

I saw a seat open up a short distance away. It happened right about the time I realized that this man was created in the image of God just as certainly as my dear Justin was. And so I remained where I was.  

I don't think I would have done that three weeks ago, but spending two weeks getting vomited on by someone I love more than anything gave me a new appreciation for those who vomit.