We had just come out of the brush and back onto the path. Xena, my dog, was busily sniffing away at some partially buried treasure next to a row of garbage cans. Suddenly her large ears drew up and her attention was called down the dirt lane. I followed her line of sight to see that somebody was slowly approaching us.
I observed the stooped over posture and the slight limp of the oncoming woman. It seemed that each step was causing her pain, yet she continued her determined trudge. This was obviously someone on a mission. She was staring down at the ground as she plodded forward, seemingly accustomed to avoiding eye contact with those around her.
My wife kids me over the fact that I will speak to anyone. Perhaps it is years of having traveled around the world as a salesman and marketing executive. Then again, I like to think that it is the result of my need to share and learn about others. Whatever the root cause of my wonderful affliction; I felt the undeniable urge to greet her.
Perchance she truly had not seen my approaching, or it might have been the volume of my voice; but I startled her with my “Good morning!” She stopped and cautiously her eyes met mine. I thought it strange, but at that very moment Xena sat down. Normally I have to instruct her to sit, yet she had just done so of her own accord.
As I studied the person in front of me, I became aware of her vacant stare. She meekly smiled at me and timidly asked me for directions. She quickly informed me of her name, her age, exactly where she lived, and the fact that she was walking to her daughter’s house. I assured her that she was on the right path and let her know at what point she would need to make a left turn. I struggled with the fact that this well-worn person had shared so much with me so quickly. Then I warmly realized that she was not only suffering physically; but she might also be a little mentally challenged.
In many southwest Asian cultures, the insane or mentally weakened are revered. In small villages, these people will be put on large colorful chairs, hoisted onto an elaborately decorated platform, and carried at the head of a parade. These faraway lands believe that being mentally impaired is a gift from God! The reasoning is that you have been blessed with no longer having to deal with the mundane matters of the common world. You have been liberated so that you may spend all of your time in the spiritual realm.
That thought continued to pervade my mind. With a childlike innocence, the woman let me know that she was walking to her daughter’s house to borrow fifteen dollars. She needed to pay for her state ID card so that she could then cash her disability check. I would have immediately given her the money; but I never carry cash when out on my walks. This poor creature still had a good two to three miles to get to her destination. It sickened me that I could not be of more help to her!
“Have a good day and bless you for everything!” Her words surprised me. After all, I had merely given her directions. I stood there, mouth wide open, as she began to trudge back down the path. Xena was still sitting, watching the stranger intently. After a few seconds, both of us returned to our walk.
I felt an odd warmth coming across me. In her simple way, this woman had put me on top of the world. Her battered body, her impaired mind, the fact that I did not know her; none of it had mattered. She had gifted me with the opportunity to help her through the simplest of acts. For just the briefest of moment, she had allowed me to care about her! It was as if I had been in the presence of an angel.
I turned to look back at her again. The path was vacant for as far as the eye could see. It was then that I had to ask myself, “How many of us are faced with angels every day as we walk on the path called life?” Do we stop and do we care? Do we open ourselves up to the beauty of that empty stranger standing in front of us?