The other day I’m leaving my buddies house and his neighbor comes running up. She says that a man is laying out on the train tracks that run behind the house and it looks like he needs help. So thinking I’m some kind of hero I dart through the yard, scrabble over a fence and trudge through some brambles to the rocks where the man is indeed lying, bleeding, unable to get up and drunk as a skunk.
I walk up, hand the guy his shoes which have inexplicably fallen off. He holds his hand out to me and mumbles and slurred request for me to help him up. I step back and look the guy over, hesitating to offer a hand. 50’s, skinny, lots of tattoos, maybe homeless and definitely a mess. He’s bleeding from his arm but his hand looks clean so I grab it and help him up. As he is still trying to steady himself on his wobbly legs I notice a drop of red clinging to end of his middle finger. I look down at my own hands and sure enough, right down the middle of my pawn is a streak of this man’s muddy red blood.
Immediately my mind jumps to Hepatitis C, HIV, Ebola, the flesh eating bacterial, SARs, and every other illness I can conjure up on the spot. This man’s blood, the very source and sustainer of his own life, had tainted mine. In my mind his blood had made me dirty, impure and possibly contagious. Reaching out a hand to help another can be a dangerous thing.
Perhaps, so often, when we don’t help another we do so to protect ourselves, to keep ourselves safe, pure, clean, to keep the other’s blood off our hands. Today you will reach out. You will do that dangerous thing of extending our hands to the other, to the one in need, the one who might be dirty, might be contagious, might be impure. You will expose ourselves fully aware the risk, because beyond the illness, beyond the dirt and the blood, beyond the things we wish to turn away from in the other we find a person whose life is worth the risk, a person who’s humanity begs us to extend out a hand, to reach out and take a hold of the other, and to allow them to take ahold of us.