Anthony is the gas attendant at the no name, ghetto gas station on our block. He works hard, all day from Thursday-Sunday. Often, he is the only one there. Anthony’s from Nigeria and misses his home and his family very much, but he had an opportunity to come to America to pursue the career he always longed for- the one that he says could, “change the world”. Anthony’s a med student at Rutgers, (he’ll proudly show you his student I.D. to prove it), studying to become a Pediatric Oncologist. He’s had to work two jobs to support his fiance he met here and fell in love with, and to keep up with all of his school bills. Just a month ago, his fiance decided that she wasn’t interested in marrying him after all, and though he is the one who pays for the apartment they shared, it’s her name on the lease, and she kicked him out. Anthony has been sleeping in his car on the campus parking lot, and says he is so thankful for the nights he must put in a 24 hour shift at the hospital so that he has a place to shower and rest. He still pays his fiance’s rent, as he says, “a man takes care of his responsibilities even if it is not reciprocated.” He is embarrassed of his situation, troubled and afraid, and yet, his smile is magnificent, his sweet attention to Ellie never wavering, and he is never selfish- he always asks me how I and my husband are, if we are well, and about our families. Though homeless in a strange country, Anthony serves us.
According to Ellie, Tom is the “fishie guy” at Petco. Slightly socially awkward, in his late 50’s, Tom will tell you that he has always had a fascination with fish. He is attentive to each tank, speaks kind, gentle words to the fish as he changes their water and delights in new, aesthetic additions like the fiberglass “volcano” that spouts hot pink bubbles so much so that the sight of it makes his clap his hands together. Ellie loves him, and he takes time out of his day to show her which species is new, pointing out the colors, telling her to be careful not to trip on the tubes and the wires and the puddles across the floor. He always asks her her name, which though I’m sure it’s because he really wants to know but can’t remember from when she told him last week, to Ellie it appears to be an example of how interested he is in her little life and happiness. “Ellie! I’m two!” She exclaims as he giggles, “You sure are. I knew that.” Tom lets us hang around the tanks even though he knows we don’t have any fish, nor are we in the market for one. He loves his job and serves us anyway.
I’ve already talked about Alex on this blog and his service to us as well as Doris the “Munkin lady” as El calls her, but I was so struck today by the beauty of these lives that we have been privileged enough to get to know over the last few years and my heart was wrenched with the self-righteousness that it has been steeped in. Often, I have preconceptions about people who are in service work.
Down on their luck.
That it our right to be served.
I think, collectively, we as Americans think the same way. We hardly glance upwards out of our tinted windows when we get gas. We certainly don’t thank them, or heaven forbid, tip them- for what? Doing their job? We rarely ask the woman who’s ringing up our order what we could do for her today- have you ever done that? I’m sure she’s so used to surely customers she’d assume you were making fun of her. We wave away plates at restaurants as though our servers were animals, not people, with stories and families and reasons why they need this thankless job. We get angry if our coffee order was made incorrectly and it never occurs to us that the young man who screwed it up was up all night studying for finals and caring for his baby sister while his mom suffers with cancer in the next room. I’ve always taken that verse in the Bible, you know, the one that says, “What you do for the least of these, you do for me” to mean that all of these “lowly” people need my smile, my kindness, my handouts, to help them through their day. That they needed me to be their Jesus.
Isn’t it just like God that, as it turns out, it was them being Jesus, to ME all along?
That it was their smiles, their kind words, their struggles, their perseverance, their hope that often got me through another day?
In this line-up of soldiers, it is me who is, “the least of these”.
I’ve never been so glad to be humbled so.