With a small, thin, frail body, hunched over by a dowagers hump and covered from head to toe in a long, black coat with a black scarf and heavy black boots, she made a strange presentation of herself on a humid summer morning when the rest of the world was donning shorts and tank tops.
She walked briskly down the suburban street, her right arm swinging strangely behind her back. In her left arm, she carried a large book of prayers, which she held tightly to her body. The colored ribbon page markers, dangling from the bottom of the book, were the most colorful thing about her, except perhaps for her language. Although I stood at quite a distance from her and couldn’t quite understand what she was saying, her tone sounded angry, her words seemed sharp-edged. What was she angry about, I wondered?
She was at once beautiful and grotesque, attractive yet repulsive, peaceful yet somehow intimidating. She was definitely a study in contrasts. I couldn’t help but stare at her. I longed to speak to her, to find out more about her. Was she part of a religious order, or a lone eccentric? And where was she going so early in the day in such a hurry? I felt so drawn to know more about her, to befriend her somehow. But for someone who appeared so frail, she moved with great speed, and even in my youth, I would have been no match for her efficiency.
So, I offered a prayer for her. I asked God to protect her on her way, and added a little prayer for myself, that as I age, I will not give up my independent spirit. I also asked God to help me remember that dear old woman as a role model for me. Like her, I wish to always be myself, the person God intended me to be, no matter what others may think of me, or how I may appear on the outside. I asked God to always help me to remember that it is the heart that matters.
Shortly after I had begun to notice this woman walking near my church in the early mornings and to pray for her, our lives connected in a mysterious way. It was a beautiful, peaceful Sunday afternoon last September. My husband Paul and son Joe were at the library. My sons John and Justin had biked to a friend’s house to return a textbook. Jack and Mary were upstairs playing a board game. I was enjoying my favorite music and a glass of wine while preparing a chicken dinner for my family. My peaceful moment was interrupted by a phone call. It was the kind of phone call every parent dreads. The voice of a stranger told me that my son had just been hit by a car. She reassured me that he seemed to be ok, and told me where he was. I still can’t believe that I had the presence of mind to turn the oven off as I frantically called to Jack and Mary to come downstairs right away. We ran out to the garage as Paul and Joe were just returning home. We jumped into the car and as Paul started driving to the accident scene, Mary said “Mom, let’s pray!” So we began. It was Hail Mary after Hail Mary all the way, fear in our hearts and voices as we repeated the prayer over and over again.
As we arrived at the accident scene, Paul told me to get out while he was waiting at the red light. He knew that I couldn't stand to wait for traffic while my son needed me. I ran across the street to find John lying in the middle of the road. Someone had rested his head on a backpack and covered him with a jacket. The ambulance had been called, but still had not arrived. The paramedics were tending to him. I knelt beside him, grateful that he was conscious and able to tell me what happened. It seemed that Justin had just crossed the street and John was behind him. As he entered the intersection, a driver that was turning right at the red light, failed to see him and her car hit him in the shin. He flew over the handlebars and landed in the road where I found him. Poor Justin was standing on the sidewalk looking so afraid for John. I wished I could hold both boys at the same time. Then I noticed the poor driver of that car, a young girl, sobbing in her mother’s arms.
I became aware of someone reaching out and holding me. It was a teacher from our school who was just leaving a volleyball game and saw my family in the street. She offered to take the boys bikes and drop them off at our house. As she was holding me, I looked past her and saw the woman in black, the woman that I had been seeing walking past the church in the early morning hours. She was standing in the middle of the road, staring at us. Her mouth was moving and I was sure that she was praying for John. She looked like an apparition, as if she wasn’t real. I'm sure God sent her as an angel, to watch over us and pray for us, just like Peter's angel who saved him from Herod in Acts 13:11 (Peter finally realized what had happened! "It's really true!" he said to himself. "The Lord has sent his angel and has saved me...")
Soon, the ambulance arrived and they braced John’s head and placed him on a stretcher. I offered some quick words of reassurance to the young girl who had hit my son, and climbed into the ambulance with John. I am forever grateful that the only injury John sustained was to his leg, and after a week in a wheelchair and a few months in a leg brace, he is back to normal. I credit that little old lady in the long black coat and her gift of prayer for the blessing of a minor, temporary injury instead of a life-long debilitating injury or worse.
I haven’t seen that woman in a long time. But, I will never forget her. And I will always keep her and her beautiful heart in my prayers of gratitude.