Here’s a quirky confession: from time to time I sign my checks and credit card receipts with names like Agatha Christie, Madeleine L’Engle, Dorothy Sayers and Gilbert Chesterton. I’ve even signed them as Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot. This is all in protest over the fact that too often in this world our identity is reduced to a set of numbers (social security numbers, account numbers, credit card numbers, etc). I got the idea from Madeleine L’Engle’s memoir A Circle of Quiet. She used to sign her checks as Emily Bronte, Jane Austen, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her checks would clear, just as mine do, every single time because our names are insignificant—only the numbers matter.
While I was walking out of the grocery store the other day a man called out, “Will you buy me a sandwich?” A trip to the grocery store for me is just one quick stop on my seemingly endless to-do list and I am typically so rushed as I leave that I may not notice a man in rags hovered by the door even if he called out to me (I fully admit that this is problematic). But for some odd reason I don’t remember, I was walking leisurely out the door and took notice. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Sure. I’ll be right back.”
I went to the deli department and ordered a foot-long sandwich, grabbed a bag of chips and a bottle of lemonade and headed to the cashier. While waiting for my turn to check out it occurred to me that it’s not a full meal in our house without a dessert; so I picked up a candy bar and threw it in the bag. I will never forget the look on the man’s face when I handed him that meal. It was so gentle and full of innocent delight. In that moment he was transformed in my mind from being just another homeless man to becoming a person with real pains and real pleasures.
As I drove away, I wondered what his name was. I wish I’d asked him. I wish I had sat down with him while he ate that sandwich and talked with him a bit about where he was from and where he was going. I wish I knew more about his family. I wonder who was the last person to ask him about his family. I bet he has a good story, and I do love a good story.
This afternoon I came across a quote from Henri Nouwen that seems fitting:
“Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity and power is a false identity—an illusion! Loudly and clearly he says: ‘You are not what the world makes of you; but you are children of God.”
We are all more than what the world has made of us whether it is a set of numbers, a name or a label, good or bad.
We are the children of God.