A Mad Woman and a Miracle

My friend Jodi lives in downtown Toronto in an area that is grey and raw and leaves me tense behind my politeness. I visited her there for the first time this summer and was in awe of the ease with which she walked those streets, the affection in her voice as she greeted the men behind blank eyes and grubby coffee cups. She was at home here and alive. When she says that she loves the poor she means it, in the same way she loves the rich and the weird and her own blond nephews. And although I live in Africa and see poverty so much more extreme than anything on a Canadian city street, I know that my shifting eyes and jerky movements betray my falseness. Because truthfully I don’t live quite so close, so in the middle of disparity and drunkenness and hopelessness.
The evening after I arrived, Jodi surprised me with tickets to Shakespeare in the Park, so we packed our purses with crackers and apples and buttoned up our sweaters against the chilly June air. We were in a hurry to catch the subway and so ran, laughing and reminiscing, down the street, around the corner with the big church, towards the subway station, when Jodi stopped. Turned. Watched a woman that I had noticed but pretended not to. She was maybe in her sixties, bundled up in the layers of someone who has no closet, and she was raging. She was waving a stick in the air like some crazed conductor that would gladly hit anyone who came near enough, and she was yelling at an invisible enemy about buses and churches and words I’d prefer not to type. She was scary. It would have suited me just fine to leave her to the other wild-eyed people on the corner and continue happily on our way to The Tempest and picnic blankets and juice boxes.
But Jodi stopped, of course, because when you choose to live somewhere like that because you believe it’s a community to enter into, where you will learn and love and maybe even meet Jesus, you don’t just walk by the first person who is swearing and swinging sticks around. She walked towards the woman, tried to interrupt her tirade and reached in to touch that flailing arm. And even without my own tendency toward the melodramatic, that moment can only be described as magic. At the first touch, everything about that corner was transformed. Suddenly there on the street was an elderly blind woman who was so afraid and disoriented that she was panicking in the only way she knew how. Her voice immediately dropped, and we realized that, all appearances to the contrary, she was completely lucid. And terrified. She explained that someone had helped her off the bus but she thought that she had been left in the middle of the street and was freaking out that she would be run over by the Toronto traffic. “Why wouldn’t she help me? Why would everyone leave me in the middle of the street?” Her weapon had long stopped swinging at this point, and hung limply at her side like the white cane that it had been all along. She was just trying to find All Saints Cathedral, she explained, and could Jodi please show her where it was? Jodi assured her she was in the right spot, it was just there across the road, and so the two of them slowly made their way across the intersection, a trendy professional with her ailing grandmother, to look at them. Jodi’s arm still firmly planted on that grubby elbow, her murmurs of assurance near that glassy-eyed face.
Jodi left the woman on the curb of All Saints, still blind, still poor, still grumbling about that disappearing bus rider. But at least she had her bearings. She was no longer alone in her panic. It only took a moment of stopping, of noticing, and of reaching out, to restore a human to dignity and to bring a taste of God’s kingdom to a sketchy downtown street corner. Which of course begs the question of how many other moments could be cracks through which that kingdom could shine if only I’d take the time to notice. How many people do I walk by every day that could be transformed, like magic, into truer more glorious beings if I would be willing to actually reach out and touch them? The Bible makes this point in a million obvious ways. This is exactly what Jesus did with most of his time. Stopped. Noticed. Touched. And magic happened. Or miracles, or love, or whatever you want to call the moments when God’s great vision for what life is meant to be breaks in to our broken, mundane lives. I call it magic. And I long for more of it in my life. Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.

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