Listen to the Still Small Voice
(Or Wait for the Brick)
The traffic was terrible. In the driver’s seat of the classy coupe, the young driver fidgeted with the controls, setting everything from the temperature to the cant of his seat, everything was just as he liked it. A recent promotion on his job had paid for the fancy wheels. A quick check in the mirror or confirmed that his tie was right – he was looking good.
Somewhere up ahead some poor sap was having car trouble, and he steamed at the delay. Oh well, with all the bells and whistles surrounding him, he could entertain himself until the traffic opened. Today was a special day. There was an important meeting, with the chance to show his stuff to the company bosses. With a little bit of luck he would soon be moving up the ladder. Fuming at the delays, he filled his mind with all the ways he would spend the kind of money he would no doubt soon be making.
Up ahead there was a slight opening in the traffic, and one by one the line of cars accelerated into the gap. Shifting the gears, he smiled to himself; this was going to be a good day. Speeding down the street, he was focused on the movement of the cars in front of him, “Come on, let’s move it.” He sped past an intersection, cutting off a more timid commuter. Finally seeing a clear way ahead, he down shifted and punched the gas. Just as he started pulling away, he heard and felt a sickening thud. It seemed to come from the passenger side, rear quarter panel. Screeching to a halt, he jumped out to see what had happened. The ugly dent on the side of his car make his stomach twist. Looking around to see what could have caused such a thing, he spied a brick lying in the road a few feet behind the car. A spot of paint exactly matching the color of his car was streaked along the edge of the brick. Somebody was going to pay for this.
Gazing up and down the street he couldn’t see anyone as a likely suspect. Then, from between two parked cars he heard a sniffle and a trembling voice. Peering past the cars, he saw a young boy, about nine or ten year’s old standing on the sidewalk, and he looked as guilty as sin. “Did you throw that brick at my car? What is wrong with you?” he shrieked. “Look at my car!”
A tear slid down the boy’s cheek as he gathered the courage to speak. “I’m awfully sorry, Mister. I tried to get somebody’s attention, but no one would listen.”
“What are you talking about?” his voice getting shrill, “You mean you threw a brick at my car just to get my attention?”
“Well, sort of. You see, I was pushing my brother along and he fell. I couldn’t get him back up again, he’s pretty heavy.”
The young driver followed the direction the little boy was pointing. There, slumped between two parked cars, was another little boy. He was hopelessly tangled in a wheelchair, and utterly helpless to get up.
Suddenly the irate driver had all the time in the world. Gently he plucked the fallen boy from the gutter. Thin legs dangled from his arms as he righted the wheelchair and carefully placed the young invalid back into the seat. “I’m really sorry, sir. He was just too heavy from me and I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t just leave him lying there in the gutter. He’s my brother, see…” the little boy repeated himself nervously.
Dusting off the clothes of the little guy in the wheelchair, the owner of the fancy car seemed to be pre-occupied. He had never had a brother, just himself. That was all he really thought about; himself. “Are you okay?” he asked gruffly. He had passed this way a lot of times on his way to work. He didn’t remember ever seeing these little guys before. “I’m alright,” the voice squeaked from the wheelchair. “It just took an awful long time to get some help. I guess nobody could hear us.”
As he pulled away, having made sure the little boy was not seriously hurt, the upwardly mobile driver noticed some stains on his shirt, and brushed the dust from the street off of his sleeve. That wasn’t all he noticed that day as he continued his trip to the office. For the first time he saw the neighborhood, and the people on the sidewalk. Turning off his music, he lowered the window and smelled the fragrance of the neighborhood saw the cracks in the crumbling walls and listened like never before to the sounds of this world.
Some time ago we were in Nairobi, Kenya. It was common to see hundreds of children wandering the streets in the city. They were ragged and begging. We were quite accustomed to seeing them. You just tried to stay out of their way. You never knew what they were going to do to try to get your attention. Then one morning we went to town and found it strangely empty. It took a few minutes to realize that the street kids weren’t there. We wondered where they went, but couldn’t figure it out. Then, a day or two later we got news. The story was that messengers came from northern Africa, with a promise of a new life for the street kids. They gathered them up by the hundreds and took them off to train them for life in this new world – as terrorists. The reality is that, if we do not notice and respond to the cry of needy and hopeless people, somebody will. There is no way to avoid it; either listen to the plaintive cry of the hurting, or just wait for the brick.