The margins are messy but the margins need us.
Most of us, most days, don’t live on the margins. We who aren’t on the margins have jobs, kids who do well in school and gas money for the car. We can pay the mortgage.
Those on the margins have nothing, or next to nothing. Sometimes they smell. They’re sick. Met one the other day who admitted he used to sleep in the hospital, undetected.
For a long time I romanticized people on the margins and to a great extent I still do. My faith tradition teaches me that these are the ones I need to pay attention to. So I would write checks here and there and feel my job was largely complete.
Now I rub shoulders with the marginalized all the time and my romanticism gets checked. Some are people who are sick, who may have it all together on the outside of the hospital but their world has just capsized because of a grim diagnosis. Or it’s someone whose diagnosis is taking awhile and they’re anxious and afraid. Or another wonders aloud: Am I going to hell for that awful thing I did last week?
Or it could be a spouse who’s been a widow for five whole minutes and she doesn’t know how to breathe anymore.
My view of the margins is becoming more complex as I see my dis-ease with it. The stench in a patient’s room is sometimes unbearable. A loved one falls to the floor in grief and after awhile I think, “Enough already!” (Some of this discomfort, I know, comes from my discomfort with the raw parts of myself that I’d just as soon weren’t there.)
Yet, as I continue to interact with those who are hurting and on the edge, if only for a day or so in the hospital, I am finding the outskirts the more-preferable place to be. People on the margins generally aren’t concerned with the latest political drama or basketball score. They want to know, Can I make it through this? What happens next? What will my new life look like? In such conversations, the high level of B.S. that makes up modern life is largely gone.
And it’s a beautiful place to be.