homing instinct

by Elizabeth de Barros


“What do you want?”

Nobody bats an eye when a mother asks her child this question. Sometimes all it takes is a look. Maternal instinct. Mothers anticipate the needs and desires of their young. What they do.

But when it came out of the mouth of a man whose address was the federally owned sidewalk of 14th Street in D.C., it seemed out of context.

What do you want?”

Stared me down, he did. Aspirated my soul with those words, hustling me for an answer. Only two feet away, my eyes fixed on the contrast of his unhealthy yellow sclerae against his dark skin. Must’ve been a demon talkin.’  Worlds apart, I held my breath, picked up the pace, secure in knowing I had somewhere to go.

My skin crawled the rest of the day just thinking about him. Why did he say that?

That was three years ago. But I’ve still not been able to shake entirely free from the haunt of his restless yellow eyes and uncanny tone of voice. He worked a nerve in me, I suppose. I’ve even tried reliving the scene on occasion, to study the inscrutability of his question to somehow grasp what seemed beyond my reach.

Today, somewhere between prayer and the rest of the morning, memory served in a new way. The lens of time and distance added a certain vaguery, softening my focus away from his yellow eyes.  Instead I saw the irony of God. How He uses the base things of this world, the despised things, to bring to nothing the things that are: namely my pride of life and tiresome clutching.  How this urban statistic, citizen of the streets, homeless man, free of  all trappings save that of his own caged soul — probed my mind until I dared allow him the dignity to be used of God to remind me of  how I am most like him — and what it is I most want.

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed,

we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,

if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.

2 Corinthians 5: 1-3 (ESV)

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