Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Stranger's Prophecy

(note: info on my two weeks in Olympia to come later; thought this story would be fun to share)

One of the great lessons I learned at the LACW was how to interact with crazy people. Even more than crazy people, I learned to interact with men and women whose social skills drive others away instead of inviting them into conversation. And while I still can be cold toward strangers who are looking for a dialogue (or an ear for a monologue), I try my best to be open to the interactions I could have with the random person I meet.

I found myself in such a situation last night while waiting for a Portland city bus to whisk me away to the Keippela's home one last time. As is the norm, I silently waited with a handful of other strangers, staring up the street in anticipation of the desired bus. A woman came up to the bus stop, grinning at me as if I was an old friend. With her thin lips and curly short hair, she reminded me of an aged Meg Ryan (pre-botox). She was wrapped tightly in a black overcoat that couldn't hide her slight frame and her knitted scarf ruffled up to her gaunt face. Breaking the code of bus stop silence, she asked, "What bus are you waiting for?"

"The 35. And you?" I stretched out from my introverted state.

"The same. I just don't know when our bus is coming." She leaned against the railing next to me, making herself comfortable for the wait. "You know, at work--I work at this building where they have cubicles..."

I've got a rambler here, I restrained a roll of the eyes. I ran into a similar type in Longview, Washington, when bussing my way up to Olympia. He ended the conversation by telling me how his mom was killed when hit by a train. However, according to him, it was "not that bad. She wasn't nice. She wasn't a good mom. My dad didn't even like her." I wondered if this interaction would be just as fascinating.

Noticing that I was sniffling and coping with a cold, she spoke about a soup she learned about. "It's called 'sick people soup.'" She listed off the vegetables needed. "It calls for miso, too. You know, bean curd. But I didn't have any, so I put refried beans on it. 'Cuz that stuff is spicy! It elevates the, uh... oh, what do you call 'em? Those things." She waved her hands around her chest and stomach, hoping I could finish her sentence. "Well, the spicy stuff is good for you."

Portland State students passed by. Crowds entered and exited the restaurant on the corner. People gathered to wait for the bus, and I continued suppressing sneezes. All the while, my new acquaintance continued to talk, routinely adjusting her glasses with her leather-gloved hands.

She directed the conversation toward me. "Do you work or go to school?"

"Neither. I travel." This was the first time I'd ever defined travel as what I "do," and my heart jumped with a bit of joy.

"Where are you traveling?" Her eye narrowed in interest. She leaned toward me, her weight still resting on the railing separating our personal bubbles.

I explained my recent travels and upcoming plans. Usually, with strangers, I am reluctant to use the term "Catholic Worker." Mainly because I don't like answering the same questions over and over again, especially being asked if I'm a nun. Yet despite my limited energy due to my cold, I thought I'd return the favor of monologue and briefly explain the Catholic Worker movement to my bus stop buddy. Serving the poor, community, hospitality, nonviolence, the whole shebang.

She was immediately amazed. "That's wonderful. That's God's work." Her face lit up with a smile, and she fixed her glasses more rapidly. My few sentences were enough to spark her lengthy stories about giving her jackets away and revelations of Jesus calling her to Him. "Revelations are just dreams that God wants us to have," she clarified. Our bus arrived mid-story, and she followed me on, weaving her tale as we took our seats on opposite sides of the aisle.

The rumbling of the bus and constant influx of passengers made conversation impossible for us and I was preoccupied with making sure my luggage wouldn't hinder the path of fellow riders. When I was finally situated, the woman wrapped in black had found a new seat.

That was nice, I happily reflected. People just want to connect with other people.

Some minutes later, I saw movement to my right, and the Meg Ryan lookalike was seated next to me. She wore an expression of giddy anxiety. I smiled to her.

"The Lord wanted me to tell you something," she spoke confidently. "Actually, He didn't have to tell me, I just knew to tell you: You are doing His work. By helping the poor, you are doing His work. And it looks like you're not feeling well right now, but you'll get better. I'll pray for you."

There was a point when I could have entertained her fantasies about God and grinned and nodded and told myself, "She's crazy." Instead, I felt her loving concern and faith. I smiled as she professed. I was smiling so deeply my cheeks were going to cramp.

"The Lord is going to test you," she warned, "because He tests everyone. But keep doing what you are doing, and you will be fine. Don't stray from the Lord."

She looked down to her lap. "I wanted to give you these." In her small hand were a plastic wrapped collection of prayer cards with Bible verses printed on them. "They help me a lot when I'm having a hard time. This is my last one, and I want you to have it."

She reached to me, I reached to her, and in between us was prayer. "Thank you," I whispered.

She released the cards into my hand. "You know, I think I was supposed to meet you."

For the remainder of the bus ride, she spoke more about pastors she knew, asked if I worked to "save" the poor (my response: "St. Francis said, 'Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.'"), and told stories of friends who had been healed. We introduced ourselves by name. Sherry smiled and said goodbye as I exited the bus.

Oftentimes, "normal" people grow wary of those who hear God. We deem them crazy, and their message is lost. Sherry has probably been ignored, shut down, or unprofessionally diagnosed by people she has met. Do I believe that she actually heard God's voice? No, I don't. But her kindness, outgoingness and obvious faith are gifts that were offered within our hour of knowing each other. And no matter her place in life, who am I to deny such gifts? And who am I to say they are not of God?

So I think Sherry was right. I think we were supposed to meet.


Dad said...

Cool! Everyone has a story, right? Sometimes we just need to listen.
Thanks for sharing this one with me.

Christine said...

Alison, this is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing the words that your 'prophet' shared with you. That sounds like such a moving interaction for both of you.

Blessings on your journey! Can't wait to hear more!