There are so many things that concern me. They stand in line at the back of my brain waiting their turn to pester me. They push and jostle and twiddle their thumbs. They threaten and cajole. Like folks in the bread line in the scenes of the great depression – they stand in sepia-toned sameness, tattered at the edges, always in need.
And now that I have turned to look them fully in the face, I am overwhelmed. I, too, am in the photo. I, too, have ragged edges and a gnawing need. I, too, have my hat in my hand and my eyes full of empty want. I, too, am begging on the curb.
As I sit there, feet in the gutter, patches on my sleeve, I look to another urchin beside me. She is dressed like I am, except with fewer layers. Her dress is torn and patched, she has a sweater with holes that are starting to unravel, and on one cheek, a smudge. But she smiles at me. She is not sitting here to beg, but to keep me company. She leans back on one hand, and kicks at a small stone in the gutter. Then she cocks her head and smiles at me.
‘Who are you?’ I ask her.
‘I am Grace, your softer self. I am your sister of faith. I am the heart of you – the part of you that trusts in the Lord completely.’
‘Then who am I?’
She cocks her head again and smiles a sly smile and waits for me to answer my own question.
If this is my faithful self, then who sits here on the curb with hat in hand looking like Horatio Alger? Who is this newsboy self? This is the me that plans to make it – to scrap and save and manipulate and scheme and – through luck and pluck – to find the way out; out of this hole, out of this life; out of the dinghy slums that surround me; out of the dead end life that I see folks living.
‘You want out,’ she muses, ‘I want in.’
‘In? Why would you want in? In to what? To poverty, to toil, to dirt and grime, to tattered days?’
‘No, in to life.’
‘Aren’t you living right now?’ I scoff.
‘Oh, I am,’ she replies. ‘I am living this very day. Are you?’
‘Am I? Ha! Do I look dead to you?’
She cocks her head and looks me over . . . it makes me look at myself as well, makes me want to take my own pulse, check my own breath for warmth. She carefully inspects me, not harshly, but honestly. She looks at my clothes. They don’t really fit me, I notice. I am not surprised. She looks at my hands and at my backpack beside me on the ground, full of books and business. She looks into my eyes. ‘Almost you are. . almost. . you almost hear the call; you almost catch the breeze.’
Then she stands and pulls me to my feet. And she shows me how to breathe in, deeply in, and hold it, and then to let it go. It sets my head to spinning – I am unused to so much oxygen. I start to sit again on the curb, but she keeps me standing and then begins to dance. Round and round, slowly, steadily until I realize that the dancing has cleared my head. With my body spinning in time with my head, I am no longer dizzy.
She tugs and dances me across the street into a large park. The grass is damp with dew, the brick wall is neat and trim. We find our way to a well and I am slowly becoming aware that the colors in my meditation are no longer the monotone of sepia. The bricks are red and the grass is green and the sidewalk is light gray and the well – for that is where she is taking me – the well is made of fieldstone, brown and red. She hands me a satchel of manna. We eat it together and drink from the well.
Then, I notice the weight of my backpack and I look at her. ‘I just can’t dance all day,’ I say, sadly. ‘I have to work.’
She smoothes my hair. She kisses me on the forehead. She slips something into my backpack. ‘This will make it lighter,’ she says.
‘Adding something makes it lighter?’ I open up the pack and I am suddenly hit in the face with joy. It makes me step back and then it makes me smile, then chuckle, and then laugh out loud. It is lighter now.
I look up at her and she is giggling. She can barely contain herself. Then she is gone and I am back at my desk and my day has begun. But the chuckle remains.
‘Thank you. Thank you, Grace.’
‘You are welcome,’ she whispers. And then she giggles, again – a whisper of a giggle in the back of my mind. So much better than the bread line that started my day.