Saturday, July 19, 2008

Walk with Me

The fragmented stories below, all of which I have heard with quiet wonder in the last week, are true. I have had them all first-hand, or second-hand at worst. I have changed some of the particulars - name and locations - so that no one minds if I put them down, but the substance had not been altered. May they be of some good to you.

Act I : Maryland

About two weeks ago, Brian took Bethany salsa dancing at the Lucky Bar on Connecticut Avenue. Afterward, he took her to Volta Park and asked her to be he wife.

So the last few times I've seen Bethany have been a little giddy. She is trying to plan a wedding on very short notice (they are shooting for autumn), in a city where she no longer lives, while being almost constantly on the road for seminary classes or fundraising. On Thursday, she had an appointment at a wedding dress consignment store - somewhere in Maryland, I think. I couldn't go, but Ann, staying with us for the summer, was her willing consort. She didn't expect to find anything, but she was armed, at least, with the admonitions of her sisters, "Don't wear pure white. It will wash you out with your complexion," and "Pick something that accents your waist. You've got a cute waist."

When they arrived, they were met by a bleached blonde saleslady. She had ten visible body piercings, five in each ear. She was, to hazard a guess, sixty years old. We'll call her Cathy.

Bethany was not allowed to be alone with the dresses, not even for a minute. Cathy followed her straight into the dressing rooms, and while Bethany wrangled the yardage of ecru taffeta and candlelight satin - or whatever is the going term for off-white these days - Cathy talked.

Cathy asked Bethany what she did, and was impressed to find that she worked with students in a campus ministry setting. It was so good, she thought, for the young people to have someone who would talk with them, help them work through their feelings, listen to them. Cathy was raised Catholic. She tried to go to church on Sundays, but it was hard, and she rarely made it anymore. She got so tired.

When Bethany had gotten herself into a dress, she would come out to model them in front of Ann.

"What about you?" Cathy said to Ann, "Are you doing this anytime soon?"

Ann, about to start her second year of law school, demurred.

"Yeah, don't get me started on the marriage thing. I was married for twenty-five years. I'll never do THAT again."

Bethany, head-to-toe white in a dress Cathy was theoretically trying to sell to her, was not sure what to say.

When all the dresses had been tried on, Cathy walked Ann and Bethany back to Ann's car.

"You know," she said to Bethany, "I'm in Georgetown sometimes. I could call you. We could get lunch."

Bethany gave her her business card. Cathy wrote her cell phone number on the back.

"Just call me, if you want to. And if I don't answer, leave me a message. I can just call you right back. It's so nice to have people to talk to."

She hugged Bethany. She hugged Ann, too, who later confessed surprise.

Act II:

In a country in South America, in a hospital, there is a ten-year-old girl called Catalina. Catalina has no parents, so her uncle, Diego, takes care of her. Six months ago, she was raped by an adult in her community. Such crimes are not uncommon where she lives, and they are met with almost certain impunity. But the rape is not why Catalina is in the hospital.

Catalina is in the hospital because something is wrong with her, and the doctors at the public clinic do not know what it is. All that is clear is that she is dying. The doctors are not doing much, nor do they seem to care. They say that they are not treating her because there is no money to pay for the treatment, but they have also removed her from her bed at times so that they can use it as a place to sit.

The employees of a non-profit have taken an interest in Catalina's case. They have been driving around the city trying to find her new doctors, trying to buy her antibiotics and blood. That is the way the health care system works here. If the doctor is good, he tells you what you need, but it's probably up to you, or someone who cares about you, to find it and pay for it. Catalina is in and out of consciousness, but she is a little in awe of the strangers who seem to care so very much whether she lives or dies. She knows, in her own way, why they are doing it.

She wakes from a sleep of drugs and fever, to find one of the women at the edge of her bed. Quiere aceptar a Jesucristo en su corazon, she makes it known, and a little later she sleeps again.

That night, she took a worse turn. I have no reason to believe she is dead right now, but no very good reason to believe she is alive, either.

Act III: Moravia

It used to be that from a particular family compound in Moravia, Liberia, on the western coast of Africa, you could see the ocean. You cannot see it anymore. Now, all the houses have nine-foot walls topped with barbed wire. The rate of armed robberies following the war has made it necessary.

Eight years ago, a comparatively wealthy Liberian woman we'll call Debbie, who lives on the outskirts of Moravia, had a visit from a neighbor woman. The woman asked her to watch her two-week-old son (whom we'll call Anthony). She said she would return in a few hours. Debbie agree, and the woman left.

The neighbor never returned.

Debbie adopted Anthony. Today, he is a smiling, well-dressed little boy. In front of cameras, he likes to put on his Batman costume with the fake muscles. He is cloistered, most certainly, behind the gates of the family estate, but in Moravia, cloistered is also protected. There will be time enough to know the world outside the walls.

Anthony made a friend, Charles, who invited him to come over to play. Charles lived downtown in a less savory district. Debbie did not want Anthony to go, but in the end, he was allowed.

Anthony and Charles played together well enough for a while, but towards evening they got into an argument. Charles pushed Anthony outside the gate of his family's compound. He threw his belongings out after him. Anthony, who knew virtually nothing about the geography of the city, was miles from either his home or Debbie's office, but Debbie's office was closer. He started walking.

Several hours later, Debbie's sister, who worked at Debbie's office, was leaving at an unusually late hour. She was going to take a cab home. She raised her hand. A cab stopped, but she let it pass. Another cab stopped, but she waved it on again. She has never known why she let them go.

Suddenly she turned, and there was Anthony, carrying his backpack, his well-pressed clothes mussed and dirty,

On sight of her, he small knees buckled and he began to cry.

"Anthony, Anthony," she said, pulling the seven-year-old to her chest, "How did you get here?"

Anthony did not know the city, and between Charles' house and the office lay twisting miles of slums, violent neighborhoods, wracked by kidnappings, where he had walked, dirty but unscathed, in his well-pressed clothes. How, indeed?

Anthony looked at her and said, "Jesus walked with me."

Note added Monday, July 21: Catalina is dancing with angels.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These moving stories remind us to look for the coincidences in life, for there we see the Hand of God. He brought a friend to a lonely woman, an invitation to dance with the angels to a dying girl, and He walked with a frightened child and delivered him into the safety of his aunt's arms in a strange neighborhood. His love and grace are overwhelming indeed.