I live an insulated life.
I saw one of the most horrifying sights of my life on Tuesday. While driving to meet a friend, as I approached the intersection of Springfield and Baltimore Avenues I saw a car blocking the way, as if it had stopped mid-turn.
It turned out that was exactly what happened. Crumpled in the road and motionless lay an African American - man or woman, I could not say. I rolled down my window and asked if I could help. A man stood with his cell phone and explained in stammering, disjointed phrases that he had been turning and hadn't seen the pedestrian before hitting him.
He had already called 911. I wanted to do something, but my friend was waiting for me, other pedestrians were converging on the spot to similarly offer assistance, and I figured my presence was only blocking the way. So I left.
The image has stayed with me. I do not go through the intersection without thinking of the person who lay there, and the poor man who could not comprehend his accidental deed.
I compare those images with images of the earthquake in Haiti this week, after which not just one but thousands of people lay broken in the streets. Natural disasters are unthinkable in Philadelphia, and near-instant mass death had occurred while I cooked jambalaya and listened to This American Life.
My first thought was that I was glad I was not there. I could not understand the random chance that once again left me born to such a comfortable life, but since I had that privilege I was relieved to possess it.
My second thought was that I wished I could be there. While I have indeed been blessed with the means to avoid most hardship, I serve a God who says that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for His sake will save it for eternal life.
The fact is that while none of us can choose the hand we are dealt in this life, we are completely responsible for how we play that hand. And my God also says that from he to whom much has been given, much will be required.
This same God had complete freedom to remain in the very seat of heaven, waited on by angels and the whole heavenly host, sharing in the perfect loving company of the Godhead. Yet he freely chose to be born among the lowest of all people and ultimately die literally the most painful death imaginable for my sake.
Finally, he tells me that just as he was sent by his father, so he sends me. I cannot pretend to understand or receive his work for me if I take that gift and sit on it. And so I would follow him, to the ravaged streets of Haiti or to wherever else he might be found.
Yet the scene from this week challenges me. This small intrusion of reality on the road between the tricked out kitchen in which I eat and the gigantic iMac screen at which I work shows me how little accustomed I am to facing Death and Pain. I wonder - would I really follow him?
Most Americans like me will cope the best way they know how, by text messaging a $10 donation to a relief organization. I wonder if it is enough.
Lord, have mercy.