The first time I met an angel on the MetroLink was about five years ago, early in the spring. A woman about my own age boarded the train a couple of stops before the end of the line, where my car was parked. I had earplugs in to shut out the noise, and was lost in my own thoughts, staring out the window.
She sat down on the seat in front of me. I noticed she was African American, dressed in slacks and a hoodie and carrying a purse and a black shopping bag. She sat for a minute, then reached around and tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention, pointed to my earplugs, and then signaled (can’t remember exactly how) that she wanted to talk to me. She pulled out a dog-eared piece of paper with a number of sentences written in ragged but legible block capitals. It went something like:
I have been in St. Louis only a short time.
I don’t speak—I am deaf but I can read lips.
I am diabetic.
I am a woman who loves God very much.
I have run out of food and would appreciate any donation so that I can buy some.
Any amount would be welcome.
God bless you.
Something like that. I haven’t done her justice at all, but I was reading very fast and was kind of dumbstruck. Anyway, I just opened my wallet, took the cash that was in it—two $5 bills —and handed them to her. She looked at them for a long moment, eyes shut, then kissed the bills and smiled at me. In my head I was saying to her, “Of course! Whatever I have,” thinking that she could at least buy a chicken, some beans, and some vegetables for $10; I wished I had had more.
After a minute she pulled another dog-eared envelope out of her purse and started showing me photographs of various young people—pointing to them, then to herself—I believe these were her children. A photo of one of them graduating from college, it looked like; a group of several family members, one of whom could have been this woman herself in happier times; a photo of a young man and his wife and their toddler—I understood that this was her son.
Many of these were recent photos—within a few years, I’d say. I leaned forward to look at them with her, pointed to some. Then she pulled out a photocopied page, also well-worn, that read (the part that I could see quickly) “In memory of” and then a photo of an elderly woman. The name was on the part of the page that was folded under. “Your Mom?” I asked as she looked at me, and she nodded. Then she kissed the photo and put it back into the envelope with the photos.
I had my hand on her shoulder the whole time. I’m not sure, now, how that happened. It was odd, but I felt some kind of kinship, wanting to lend her whatever bit of strength and encouragement I could.
What I remember feeling wasn’t pity of any kind, and I had no sense of difference or superiority. There was just this kinship, something fundamental that we shared that somehow overruled all the judgements and warnings that my mind would have offered, had it been asked. And she seemed strong and sober and capable—I just wondered what life events had brought her to this place.
As the train stopped she looked me in the eyes and smiled, then reached back to shake my hand. Without thinking I took off my glove before grasping her hand. As we left the train she reached back and grabbed my hand again and I gave hers a squeeze. Then we walked off in opposite directions. I didn’t look back.
I was in tears by the time I got to the stairs, not for her, but because it was such a profound experience. In that moment, I asked God to look after her, to see her through to better times.
Somehow—and this is the odd part—I felt like I had been blessed by this encounter. It almost felt like a … “reward” isn’t the right word … a blessing, like an affirmation of something, maybe an assurance that I can make a difference to someone, and they can make a difference to me, in a fraction of a moment’s time. One of those weird flashes of something of the Divine that you just can’t explain at all but that leave you feeling like you’ve glimpsed the Infinite in someone else’s eyes.
It felt like she was an angel, somehow; and I wonder, now, if I was some kind of angel for her, too. I’m left feeling so grateful for the encounter….