Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Journey

My job is taking me to Chicago a couple of days each week for the next few weeks, so I have less time to blog, which is a shame because there's lots to talk about every time I come back from a trip. I wanted to be sure to relate this story, though.

At the hotel where I usually stay, they have a little happy hour every evening with free drinks and appetizers. It's a wonderful place to meet other travelers and hear their stories, the drinks are tasty, and the food makes a light evening repast. Tuesday night, I popped in for a drink and the place was pretty full. I spied a bar height table with two empty chairs and, weary from a day that started at 3:30 AM, plopped down with my drink, my plate, and my book. In a couple of minutes, another woman carrying a book -- a stranger -- turned up to the table and asked if the spare seat was taken. I welcomed her to join me. Sharon looked to be in her mid-40's.

Naturally, we started talking about our respective books. Mine happened to be Thomas Merton, which then lead us to talk about our religious backgrounds. She said she is Jewish and when she was a child, she lived on a block with some children who attended a nearby Catholic parish/school. Unfortunately, these children were not very kind to her. When she was three years old, she had blonde curly hair; she told me how one of the boys took her inside his house and cut off all her hair. When she asked why he did it, he said it was because "Jews aren't supposed to have blonde curly hair." On other occasions, some of the Catholic kids on the block would ask her to lift her top so they could see her belly button. When she asked why, the children would say "Sister told us Jews' belly buttons are black." Oh my!

I was moved with compassion for Sharon after she told me of the unkindnesses she endured in these (and probably many more untold) unfortunate situations. I immediately felt compelled to apologize and I told her I was sorry that she had to go through those things. With a gentle wave of her hand, she dismissed my apology as unnecessary since, after all, I hadn't done those things to her and for that matter, I wasn't even a Catholic until two years ago. Just then, Sharon's co-worker Nathan appeared, and in an instant, our conversation took a completely different turn.

My point here isn't to toot my own horn, but rather to draw attention to the journey that brought Sharon and I together that evening. What a coincidence -- surely God had a hand in it! I was only in Chicago for one night while she just happened to be staying there while attending a conference for work. While the simple apology I gave surely isn't enough to compensate Sharon for the harassment she experienced, I hope it helps take away some of the hurt or perhaps disenchantment that she must carry with her, considering that she could still vividly recall these events from 40 years ago.

So many opportunities are presented to us every day to show love to others, whether to someone as familiar as a brother or to a perfect stranger. It is up to us to be attentive for God's gentle urgings in our consciences and heed them.

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