Emily

I’m excited about a new course I’ve embarked upon. I’ll be steeped in the world of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for the next year, spanning many Saturdays just like this past one, so I can eventually work with children in our church.

Moving backwards. Friday. I made rosemary rolls. The kids were begging for them.

So, now, back to Saturday. I decided to pack two sandwiches (using the rosemary rolls) for my day at the course. I only live a little over two miles from the church where the class is held–a perfect distance for both getting exercise and having time to gear up, and wind down before and after the session. Since homeless seem to line State Street (the road I was to walk on), whether it’s uptown, or downtown, or mid-town, I thought an extra sandwich was exactly what needed to be in my bag.

And wouldn’t you know, half way there a woman was sitting on a bus stop. No shopping cart, or load of things to tug about, but her coarse, sunburned skin, the bloated and bandaged legs, and the way she looked tired, almost done, gave her away. I guessed food might be welcome.

I crossed over and dug into my bag, pulling out the roll stuffed with cheese. I made an extra sandwich today, would you like it?

She stared. Not at me, but past me. 

I knew I’d be coming downtown and thought I might just bring an extra sandwich, just in case.

Won’t you want it? she asked in a high, sweet voice. She looked at me this time.

No, it’s an extra. My name’s Jane, by the way, what’s yours?

Emily. But might YOU want it?

No, I have one for myself.

Emily. Her eyes were bright blue, highlighted by the bloodshot red that surrounded them.

She took the sandwich and I smiled and told her I was on my way to a course and better keep walking. We said goodbye.

I made it fifty more steps, to the corner, and started to cry.

Her sunburned skin. Her leg, swollen and wrapped. Yet. She wondered whether I would have enough food for lunch. Ha! Enough. I have enough of everything. Of food, and warmth, and clothes, and books, and baking pots, and gardening tools, and figs coming off the tree, and friends, and… love. And all morning, while focusing on learning how to serve children, I just kept thinking about Emily. About her childhood, about her road that must have been filled with many zigzags, and probably is still swerving.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been slowly reading Lewis’ A Grief Observed. Have you read it? What a powerful account of love, of the loss of a beloved, of a shaking of one’s faith. This passage shouted at me–Lewis is describing how the faith he believed he had while things were good was revealed to be weak once tested:

Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination. Yes; but should it, for a sane man, make such a difference as this? No. And it wouldn’t for a man whose faith had been real faith and whose concern for other people’s sorrows had been real concern. The case is too plain. If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards.

I don’t really believe that Lewis ultimately had built a house of cards with his faith in God, he was thick in the midst of his mourning when he wrote those words. But he uncovered a basic truth that I felt while walking away from Emily. I have never been homeless or lacking. I have never been broken, betrayed, battered or cast aside. My concern for other people’s sorrows is superficial and ultimately fits my schedule. And until I am placed in their position, all I can do is keep offering sandwiches and a smile, with no pretense that I am saving the world.

Hopefully I am saving myself, one tiny crumb at a time.
Pray for me!

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10 thoughts on “Emily

  1. Jane,
    Thanks for the profound words of daily experience. I hope God blesses you with the catechesis and all that Sofia Cavaletti had in mind when she started on her road following in Maria Montessori’s steps. It is THE most sacred path towards the spiritual needs of children.

  2. What a courageous post and thing to do. It’s hard to confront the gulf between our professed faith and our real inner trust (or lack thereof). I’d say that blaming yourself isn’t what Jesus would want you to do, though. You saw Emily’s humanity. Bless you!

  3. You explained that extremely well. It touched a truth inside me. We think we’re Christians when we help someone – but really, we’re just “being” Christian. Made me wonder, in my fortunate life, how real is my faith and my concern for others. Must try to do better:-)

  4. Yes, Jane, that is just the message I needed to hear. A few nights ago we went to a gathering of people who have a heart for “friends without homes” (a different way to say “homeless”) and the horrifying realization I came home with is that I have such a hard heart that does not really want to enter into their real pain. It’s much more comfortable to be distant and turn a blind eye. I have been praying for God’s mercy on me and His forgiveness, and asking the saints to pray for me (so many of them gave their lives for the poor and homeless). I have a long road here ahead of me. Please pray for me as you walk this road yourself. Thank you for sharing. I love you.

    • Love you too, Miss Carla… I can tell you that your heart is not hard. I know you! There may be places inside of our hearts that are still dark and full of closed doors, but thankfully we all have patches of light shining in there. If we didn’t we would shrivel up and decay and slip back into the earth–or people near us would weary of our gloom and cast us into the wide ocean! Let’s keeping working to make more and more space for that burning, beautiful light–which brings life and love to the very air and elements around us…

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