Several years ago, I went for a long walk in my wife’s hometown while staying there on vacation. As I looked down the sidewalk, I noticed a well-to-do looking woman walking toward me. As she reached the intersection a block ahead, she crossed the street. Then she continued to walk in the same direction. I assumed she lived on that side of the street. At the end of the block, I glanced back. Once past me, she crossed back to my side of the street and continued on her way.
I wondered for a moment at her action. Why had she crossed the street? There was no mud or broken sidewalk or dogs to avoid. Then it dawned on me—she crossed the street to avoid me.
I wondered at that for a moment. Why did this woman want to avoid me?
Then it hit me.
Seeing as the Man on the Street
I took stock of my appearance. Midway through a two-week vacation, I hadn’t shaved in several days and accumulated significant scruff. I dressed in old clothes for the cold temps—flannel lined jeans (ripped in a few places), an old flannel shirt, and stocking cap. I looked like a homeless man. And, in her eyes, I was not safe to encounter. So, she avoided me.
I laughed. Had she only known that I was a pastor! I thought. She wouldn’t have crossed the street. This woman would have smiled and greeted me. She would have known that I was the safest person she’d encountered today. But she judged me based on external appearances, but not on my heart.
I spent the rest of the walk contemplating how often I’ve judged those I meet on the street based only on their appearance. I thought of the Man in Black and his ability to see life from the perspective of “the poor and the beaten down, livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town.”
How many times I had I failed to see? How many times had I, like that woman, been so casually judgmental?
That incident has changed me. It has borne good fruit in many interactions with others. I think of it often.
The Other Side of the Street
However, I’ve recently begun to see that walk from her side of the street.
I’ve spent time listening to the stories of women and their experiences of abuse and mistreatment at the hands of men—even pastors’ hands.
What had she experienced? What made her afraid to pass within a few feet of an unfamiliar man in broad daylight in a nice neighborhood?
I couldn’t answer those questions. I don’t know this woman or her life. She may well be entirely justified in her caution. (And, if she knew I was a pastor, that may very well have increased her action!)
It’s been good to see this experience another way.
There are “unpolished” people who others avoid and fear, despite having nothing but good to offer. They need a smile, an introduction, an affirmation of their humanity.
Some people appear judgmental, fearful, and downright snobbish, yet their experiences make their actions understandable.
Both perspectives are valuable.
We need to practice seeing down both sides of the street.