A few weeks ago, I did a ridiculously awful thing: I got into an elevator BEFORE a person in a wheelchair who was waiting for the same elevator. We were the only two people there, and the elevator was one of those very old, tiny, creaky ones in an “historical” building, where you aren’t completely sure that if you get on it you will ever get off. It’s the kind of elevator that makes you pay special, up close attention to the certification notice hanging on the wall inside, making a little mental note of the name of the person who has signed the notice, hopefully sometime in the last century. The young man in the wheelchair and I, we waited for the elevator to lumber down, and when it got to the first floor, I said, “Please, go ahead.” He said, “No, you go ahead.” “No, please, go on,” I said, sort of pleadingly. “No,” he said, “I’ll wait.” So I got on, and the whole way up, the whole 4 FLOORS, no, not 10, not 20, not 85, the whole 4 floors which I could have walked with my fully functioning legs, I thought, with recurring horror, “What kind of person gets onto an elevator she doesn’t even need before a person in a wheelchair?” And then it got worse.
It turned out that we were going to the SAME PLACE, and about 5 minutes after I sat down in the tiny waiting room of this office, who should roll in but the young man in the wheelchair? We sort of chuckled at the coincidence of it; well, he chuckled, and I grimaced. The waiting room was so small that we were sitting practically knee to knee, and we sat like that for about 700 hours. I was practically curled into a ball with shame. At one point he asked me if I knew the time, and I felt so relieved, like I could give him something, this paltry and yet crucial gift of telling him that it was 12:50. “Okay, cool,” he said.
His wheelchair had all this newspaper stuffed in around the seat, and I wanted to ask him what it was for–to make the seat more comfortable or just where he kept what he was reading. But I didn’t get the chance, because the person he was waiting for came and got him, and he rolled away, leaving me alone in the little waiting room, relieved and horrified.
It’s not like I’m a stranger to people with disabilities. I’m a student advisor at a major university, for God’s sake. I worked with a school for people with profound and multiple disabilities for two years, becoming quite close to my student liaison, a young man named Dylan who has cystic fibrosis. He taught me more than any other student I’ve had. And I’m not saying that because it sounds good; I’m saying it because it’s true. He used to argue with me quite often about how people with disabilities are happier than people without disabilities, because their chances for accomplishments are greater. He was singlehandedly responsible for getting wheelchair ramps installed in many building on campus AND he taught himself to speak Latin. He’s miraculous.
So what does this have to do with trust? I’m not sure. My student had to trust every semester that the team of people he “hired” to help him would indeed help him and treat him with the respect he fully and completely deserved. I had to trust that when the young man in the wheelchair insisted that I get on before him, that he would rather wait, that he was telling me the truth (who knows, maybe he wanted to see if I made it up alive).
But in Advent, as my mother reminded me, Mary had to trust that she was carrying the Son of God, and Joseph had to trust that she was telling him the truth.
How often is trust betrayed in our own lives? Quite frequently, I believe. No, I know. The people we love lie to us, we lie to them, we all disappoint each other. It happens all the time. We make promises and don’t keep them, whether to ourselves or other people. How absurd an activity trust really is.
One of the definitions of trust is: “something committed or entrusted to one’s care for use or safekeeping,” like, for example, your heart. Who, knowing what we know about the fallibility of human beings would ever take this risk? No one.
Except we do it all the time, for better or for worse. Because, if we choose to live in connection with one another, what choice do we have? It’s a foolish, blind, irrational risk, a never to be taken for granted task. And if you think you are safe, you are fooling yourselves. No one ever knows what is going to happen.
But this is what God asked of Mary, of Joseph, and indeed of all human beings: please be here and love one another, knowing in the end, you will have to let go.
Trust doesn’t make us safe. It’s exactly the opposite. It makes us vulnerable, tender, more easily prone to hurt. But again, if we are to be fully human, fully immersed in the commitments we have made, what choice do we have? The promise is that the rewards are beyond our comprehension. And therein lies the courage, the heart, the hope.
This is what I send you, my friends. And, as always, all my love and gratitude.
It’s like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.
The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
all show up at their intended destinations.
The theft that could have happened doesn’t.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.
And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can’t read the address.