Monday, October 27, 2008

A Gathering of Strangers

I witnessed fear the other day. Not my own, but rather through an other's eyes.
I chose a pew near the front of church. Accompanied by my five year old, we said a few prayers, sat back, and observed our surroundings as strangers filed in through the doors. Although we usually sit alone, a kind woman dressed in a red leather jacket asked to sit with us that day. I politely moved over. As I sat watching the many faces, I noticed two of my favorite people entering the church. I use the word favorite in an odd sense; for I have never met them before, aside from the pleasantries exchanged during the sign of peace. This man and woman I assume to be married and quite up there in age, although I would never place a guess on the exact number. I often see them enter together, but she generally walks a few paces in front of her husband. This seems to be the normal in their relationship. She is the guide, and he is the willing participant. She walks with purpose. He slouches a bit, and moves his feet across the floor with a slide. Sometimes I receive a smile from the couple. Other days, like this one, they tend to their own business.
Mass began as usual, but there was something different today. The old woman didn't have her spunk, her tenacity. As we sat listening to the reading, I overheard the woman say she had pain in her legs. I watched as her husband began to run his hand up and down her leg in an effort to bring some comfort.
Now the following part I'm about to tell could have gone a number of ways. In the past few months I've been intrigued by stories on the news telling of people witnessing horrible things, but refusing to get involved. No one can say what they will do in certain situations, but if you have the opportunity to give a hand, sometimes its worth extending it. I lightly tapped the woman on her back. She turned to me as if to scream for help, but her words were buried in whatever pain she was feeling at that moment. Her husband said in a troubled voice, "I don't know what to do." A quick decision by the lady in the red leather jacket, myself, and an usher led to a 911 call. As the lady in the red leather jacket returned to the pew, the old woman collapsed in our arms. She came in and out of her clouded thought long enough to try to convince us that she was alright. We didn't buy it.
All the while, I couldn't help but watch her husband. I imagined that he had been at her side well before I had entered this world. During their tenure he was happy to sit back and give her the wheel. He knew that he was in good hands. But today, with all the many happy years he had invested, he realized, he never learned to drive. As the paramedics arrived and placed the woman on the gurney, her husband stood by her side. He spoke not a word, but oddly she knew what he was saying.
It's weird how life sometimes works. We're placed in situations that despite their complexity, we manage to work through. There are reasons for everything. I sat in that pew that day thinking it would be like any other. Instead, I witnessed love, was helped by an angel, and hopefully taught a lesson to my son about the joy of reaching out to a stranger. It was a good day.

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