A few Sundays ago, I was on the west-bound train home after an activity-packed day- Bible Study and church service in the morning, lunch and fellowship with my CG, tea with Ahred in the late afternoon, dinner with the mission trippers in the evening… it was already past 9 and I still had to meet Armin at the mall near my place.
Suffice to say, I was immensely relieved when I got a seat. I had my MP3 player on, shut out from the cacophony around me, closed my eyes and laid my head back.
Two stops later, the woman next to me gently nudged me.
“Which stop are we at? Why are there so many of these people? I thought they only come on at Bugis.” she asked, barely concealing her disdain.
She was referring to a huge crowd of Indians that had boarded the train at Outram.
Great, I thought to myself. Just what I need, a racist old lady who is going to rant about “these people” the whole ride home.
I had politely removed my right earpiece to answer her question, and was now seriously considering plugging it back into my ear again to show my unwillingness to pursue the conversation. But somehow something stopped me and thankfully she moved on from the Indians.
She spoke in fluent and articulate English.
After exchanging some pleasantries, she shared with me extensively about her husband and the yearly vacations they took. She retired a few years ago but her husband had not been well, so she became more independent and spent her afternoons going around Singapore on her own and then meeting him for dinner near their place. But he recently had a bad fall in the kitchen, and when she rushed over to check the commotion, she found that he had stopped breathing.
“Oh dear… I’m so sorry.”
There were tears welling in her eyes but she fought them back bravely. “Yes, it happened on the Xth August 2005.” (I can’t recall the exact date she told me.)
She continued to share about his funeral and how she has been coping, particularly with the ungrateful nephew and nieces that her husband had single-handedly raised up when their parents died. How it was all the will of God- if it was time to go, it was time to go.
Too soon we reached the stop where I was to alight and change trains.
“Isn’t this your stop?” she asked, pausing mid-way in her sentence when she heard the station being announced. I nodded but assured her that it was okay and offered to send her to her destination. Obviously in need of an audience, she continued sharing.
The train journeyed another 15 minutes before we got to her stop. She was not done, so we stood outside the train as people streamed past us and hurried home. And when she finally had to leave, she shoke my hand and asked me for my name.
“T? I am glad to meet you. If you ever see auntie on the train but I don’t recognize you, please come up and talk to me!”
Hebrews 13:2 came to mind- “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Yesterday, however, was a different story.
It was yet another long Saturday- work in the morning, community work in the afternoon and dinner and coffee with Phil in the evening. I was exhausted.
About three stops after I got a seat in the train and completely immersed in Russell T. Hitt’s Jungle Pilot, the lady next to me stood up and offered her seat to an old man.
The first thing that hit me was his smell. There is no nice way of putting it, but it seemed that he had not had a shower in days.
I casually turned to my left to look at him and was appalled by what I saw- a mix of sympathy and disgust.
His collared long-sleeved shirt was rolled up to his elbows and had clearly seen better days. It must have been white once, but it was wet and clung on to his body and had patches of brown stains over it. He looked like he had fell into an open manhole and simply sunned himself dry. There were about 4 plasters on each of his exposed arms.
The bag he clung on to was an army green lady’s bag that threatened to come apart any time. The handles had steel rings in them which had all gone rusty, the seams torn and hung by loose threads.
There was not the slightest hint of joy or hope on this man’s face. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wearier look.
This was a man who must be living on the fringes of society and with no family member who cared for him.
If there was a man who desperately needed to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, it was him!
I am most ashamed to say that I simply endured the rest of the journey without as much as a smile at him. I realized halfway through that I had subconsciously turned my entire body away from him, leaning towards the glass panel.
I felt a prompting to ask him if he needed money, but yet in my stupid logic I was afraid that he might feel offended by my gesture.
The rebuke came almost instantaneously.
“You, with all your lofty talk about doing mission work and giving your life to Christ, will not even have compassion on this one man who is seated beside you. What right do you have to claim your commitment to His calling?”
I had no answer.
But I know I still have such a long way to go, and so much to learn.
And I ask, O Lord, that you may break me so completely that my life will no longer be my own, but that of Yours.