Way back when (It seems like a lifetime ago) I lived in Northampton, Massachusetts, a small but vibrant college town. Some know Northampton as “Paradise City.” I loved living there because everything was so easy to get to, by walking or by bus. One of my favorite hangouts was the Bruegger’s Bagel Shop. I used to go there all the time and order my usual 50-cent (at the time) large-mug-refill of coffee with cream and a garlic bagel with bacon/scallion cream cheese. My mouth is watering by just thinking about it. The bagels were made fresh downstairs and were carried up to the shop in large wire bins. The smell was phenomenal and biting into the toasty crust and soft inside of the bagel made me realize why NoHo is also known as “Paradise City.” If I lived in “Paradise City,” then Bruegger’s must be “an Oasis in Paradise City!”
I would go there in the mornings, sit and enjoy my “usual” and read my Bible or FOOD & WINE magazine and people-watch. Many different kinds of people came to Bruegger’s to enjoy their “usual” bagel and coffee before going to their jobs, school, or whatever else they had to go do that day. There were people in three-piece suits, moms and dads with babies in strollers, college students with backpacks, working men in dungarees, people walking in with the aid of walkers or canes or wheeling in wheelchairs. All these different types of people had one common goal, and that was to enjoy their coffee and bagel with cream cheese before attacking the ol’ grind of the day. They all had something else in common as well: No matter what they were wearing, how they got to Breugger’s, or where they were going after their “Oasis Stop,” sometime during the course of the morning, they would have to use a paper napkin to wipe the cream cheese off their lips. You see, at Bruegger’s, all people are creamed equally! More importantly to me, all people were treated with the respect and dignity they deserve as human beings.
During my time living in Northampton, I was still able to walk, but with my cerebral palsy and herky-jerky uncontrollable movements I still need some help in getting my coffee and bagel to my “usual” table near the window. When I would enter Bruegger’s, I was always greeted with a smile and would be asked if I wanted the “usual.” As I paid the cashier, another worker would ask me if I needed help and noticed that my favorite table was empty and waiting for me. She would then graciously bring my coffee and bagel and NAPKINS to my table. When I didn’t make it to Bruegger’s for a while, someone would always ask me where I’ve been and say they missed me. On my way out the door, someone would always say something like, “Heading out? Have a good one.”
To be treated in such a warm and welcoming way is very refreshing and validating for anyone and especially for a person with a disability. Sadly, these times of refreshment and validation are very few and far between for those who have a visible disability, even now in my present lifetime. Sadder still, these times of refreshment, acceptance and validation are not seen by people with disabilities in some churches even still. Somehow, Jesus’ message of inclusion for “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13) in Christian fellowships and what Jesus means when He says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers [or sisters] of mine, you did for Me” (Matthew 25:40) does not translate into action in some Christian churches and they just don’t do what Jesus said they should do. To treat everyone who comes through the door with courtesy and respect, with dignity and honor, with a helping hand when needed and always with the hand of Christian fellowship is not always that difficult. It may take a little of your time to understand slurred speech, it may take some effort and finances to make a building accessible, it may take a little patience in dealing with “different” behaviors that may lack “social graces,” but Jesus says, “…and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14). You will be blessed because you are doing what Jesus would do and what He calls you to continue to do until He comes again. To treat everyone with respect and dignity may take a little re-learning, a little time, a little effort, but it will also make someone’s day and may lead them to an eternity with Jesus, where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no death or mourning or crying or pain, for the older order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). And there will no longer be any ridicule or shame, walkers or wheelchairs, braces or splints, hearing aids or braille, blood sugar machines or old age, or anything that will imprison them. Jesus will say to all who believe in Him,”I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5). O for more churches to be like Breugger’s Bagel Shop!
Calvin Miller writes in his book, “THE SINGER” (an allegory about Jesus), two statements which are very meaningful to me: “Blessed is the mighty king who sits beside the weakest man and thinks of all their similarities” and “…no man may burn a label into flesh and make it stay when heaven disagrees.” AMEN to that!