So I’m sitting on a crowded bus one evening after a long day of translating for a volunteer team when a man gets on the bus to beg for money. This is common here on public transportation: disabled people or single mothers or people going through rough times will get on the bus, train, or subway, announce their need and then walk through and collect whatever money people feel inclined to give. This guy was youngish, said he had lost his job and needed money. I usually try to keep a few coins or small bills to give out to cases like his or to street musicians, but I honestly had nothing for him and neither did my friend.
He made his rounds, I turned him down politely . . . but he went nowhere. Instead, he stood and stared at me. I turned to my friend and continued talking but his gaze was unnerving. After a moment he tapped me on the leg and said, “You are the most beautiful person on this bus.”
I gave him an unamused “Thanks.” And switched back to English with my friend, hoping upon hope that he would just freaking go away already.
But he didn’t.
Again I tried to ignore him, but a few moments later, to my mortification, HE STARTED SINGING. Staring at me and singing “I saw you, I saw you, I saw yooouuuu” while drumming his fingers on my knees.
He was singing. People were looking. There was no escape. He was even standing between me and the door. Oh how I wanted to curl up die.
Eventually he got off the bus and I laughed off the situation, realizing I should just take a compliment, however mediocre a compliment it might have been. But for some strange reason I’m still working out, I was irked by the event.
I’ve written and rewritten this blog post about six different times now, unhappy with my word choice, unsatisfied by the flow, annoyed by the tone, etc. Truth is, this one is just hard to talk about.
Here is the very hardest thing about being a missionary, the very thing that hurts like a good kick to the gut and makes me want to hide in my apartment: Everybody leaves.
I have started what have seemed like exciting and fun friendships with great people here in Buenos Aires, just in time for them to go home. I’ve met long-term missionaries who have left for stateside assignment. I have met short term missionaries who have only stayed for a few months. I have met foreign exchange students who have come for a semester or people on vacation who see what they want to see and go home. Everybody leaves. And just when I start to lean on somebody, find a shoulder to rest my head on, just as it gets comfortable, the shoulder is gone and my neck is sore. It’s lonely.
I pride myself on my independence and how I’ve managed to find contentment in God alone. But here, where it’s hard to even have a friend to hang onto, the loneliness starts to eat away at my heart a little bit and those seeds of discontentment take root. And I get tired of trying so hard to be independent all the time. And a bum singing to me on the bus makes me grumpy rather than amused.
I feel like a tired bird just wanting to rest, but all the branches keep breaking on me.
Through all of this I think God is teaching me to cherish relationships in spite of their transience. That brevity doesn’t mean insignificance. And that I need to stop wasting so much time on shallow talk and make my friendships count for something today. Say what needs said. Be the friend that somebody needs. Hold the hand that needs held. Enough with the pleasantries already.
And he’s teaching me that it’s okay to need people. It’s not shameful to rest my head a while.
The manna that God provides is good to eat. I simply must remember he is the Bread of Life. And all provision comes from the Provider.
I have only to trust.