Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Unseen

Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?" And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:37-40)

Neil Gaiman first wrote Neverwhere as a screenplay for a BBC television mini-series before turning it into a novel (and I highly recommend it in either form). The story revolves around Richard, a typical English office worker, who is plunged into the strange world of "London Below" when, ignoring his fiancée's protests, he helps a battered and bloody girl who suddenly appears on the sidewalk in front of them. Her name is Door, and by taking her in, Richard becomes like her and the other residents of the city below, literally unseen by the denizens of "London Above."

When the original idea for Neverwhere was presented to Gaiman, the unseen ones were the homeless. Not wanting to romanticize life on the streets, however, he turned it into a fantasy world of earls, friars, swords, and great, fell beasts. Regardless of the characters' plight, though, the upshot of the story remains the same: when you reach out and help someone in need, you life will be changed, completely and irrevocably, and even when you are allowed to return to your safe and comfortable world, things will never be the same.

I have a cyber-friend who has made it her mission to help the otherwise unseen ones on the streets of southern California. She buys packages of socks and puts into each pair a pop-top can of Vienna sausages or something similar. She keeps these care packages in her car, and when she sees a homeless person as she's driving around, she hands food and comfort out of her window. Instead of ignoring them as I tend to do, she chooses to see them and she reports that this has changed her own outlook on life. What a testament to the power of sight – I pray that I may be able to start seeing instead of simply looking, and that I may not be afraid to rock my entire world.

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