A Message from Rev. Dr. Larry Hayward
A few weeks ago, on one of the beautiful cool afternoons we have been experiencing, I stopped in CVS on Quaker Lane to pick up a prescription. When I came out, three or four teenage boys were standing outside. One was white. One was black. The others were figures whose number nor race I did not notice. They were dressed in jeans, sweatshirts, hoodies. One of them, who had an eye that looked like it had once been injured but was now healed, said, politely, “Sir, do you know where the nearest McDonald’s is?”
When he spoke, I was taken back in memory immediately to Labor Day Weekend fifteen years ago, when I arrived in town to serve Westminster, moved into a high rise condominium in the Carlyle area, and realized that I had no idea where there might be a grocery store or even restaurant. The Pastor Nominating Committee had “saved” me from “DC traffic” by chauffeuring me around town when I had interviewed; so when I arrived in my large, five year old Buick, fresh from the Midwest, pre GPS, I was timid about driving, even though the streets were deserted on the holiday weekend. A few days later, I finally ventured out, found the Giant on Duke Street, and filled my refrigerator.
When I encountered the teenagers outside CVS, what flashed in my mind was that there was a McDonald’s a couple of miles away on Duke Street (which has sense been torn down); but because I couldn’t think of any others, and sensed they were on foot, I said “Gee, I don’t think there is a McDonald’s nearby.” I felt for them because I knew what it was like to be in a strange city and not know where to turn for food.
As I was speaking, I suddenly returned to reality and remembered that there was a McDonald’s just up the street at Bradlee Center; so I gave them directions, and they headed that way, with a skip in their step, their taste buds already watering over Chicken McNuggets with Bar-B-Que sauce.
What struck me about this exchange is that when we meet someone who is going through something we have gone through – be it mildly unpleasant or severely traumatic – we can be immediately transported back into similar unpleasantness or trauma. When we are so transported, we literally “lose our minds” to the past; and we may (as I did) not only forget that what they need (a McDonald’s) lies close at hand (at Bradlee); but also, we may instruct people to a place (a McDonald’s on Duke Street) that no longer exists. Our disorientation aside, we can also feel an immediate identification with their plight, however great or manageable it is. Because I had once arrived in Alexandria and not known where to turn for food, I “got” what they were going through.
“Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt,” God says to the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 15:15). Remembering may paralyze us for a moment, but it eventually leads us to be able to point the way out of slavery into the Promised Land, even if the Promised Land to which we point is a McDonald’s – still in existence where we remember it, after a momentary trip back into the inconvenience of unpleasantness, or worse, the slavery of trauma.