I was 5 years old on a busy New York City street with my mom, dad, and two sisters. A large man in shabby clothes holding a garbage bag in his hand stood on the corner waiting for the light to change.
My dad reached into his wallet and handed the stranger a $20 bill, patted him on the shoulder, and said, “Have a good day, my man.”
Dad knew everybody — even strangers, it seemed.
Back then, I didn’t know what poor was, but I did know he was a stranger and dressed oddly. And I knew that $20 was a lot of money.
No one explained anything to me, and we just kept walking.
Now, I was raised in the Catholic church where only Catholics go to heaven. We prayed for the “public” children and their parents because they weren’t Catholic. They were going to hell.
If you missed a Sunday mass, a very large, dark spot appeared on your soul — you’d be going to hell too.
I became defiant as I got older. I met the man of my dreams — or at least thought I did. He was this pseudo-intellectual hippie with Afro-eque hair and a long, unruly beard. His eyes were beedy and blue complementing his thin frame in a way. And he would always smoke those cigarettes. He was my magic man. We played music together, wrote poetry, too. I inhaled and exhaled his every word.
We bought a trailer on five acres, and we were going to live off of the land. I dumped my Catholic religion. As my parents said, we were “living in sin.”
But I was naive and young and came from a dysfunctional family with a mommie dearest and alcoholic dad. Daddy would drink a gallon of wine a night and bump into walls. Here he was Mr. IBM man who sent us to private Catholic school and owned the big brick house on the good side of town with a cute lake cottage and boat. The big, dark house disguised the sadness, the dysfunction, the negligent parents. The screams of emotional and verbal abuse. The message like a tape recorder over and over again:
“You’re dumb and stupid and not pretty.”
I thought I broke through — I became that nurse Mom told me I had to be!
We married and had three beautiful children. Before baby three, there was no future vision from my husband. Are we to stay in this two-bedroom trailer?
There was no movement from him. And so I got a second job as a nurse and saved money for a down payment to move out of that trailer and never look back.
It was a sad and tormented marriage. He had many lovers. Many infidelities. And though I put my heart into raising our children with the greatest joy, I always felt degraded and disrespected — and sad.
My husband, Ted, led a life of being a computer guru, public health servant, awesome father, and friend to others in the neighborhood, even a surrogate father to some.
Ted carried a glow to his universe.
I’d work 60 hours a week as a nurse to make ends meet. I worked until I was exhausted.
But I carried on.
Thirty-seven years of marriage. And then my life came to a halt.
Tormented years of marriage, of the infidelities, of the emotional abuse…. sadness and loneliness and always wishing for that happy marriage that never happened.
And it was recent that I woke up one morning, as the sun squeezed through my blinds. I had tears in my eyes.
I had rejected Jesus for a very long time.
But today I felt Him.
The five-year-old in me remembered my dad handing a poor man $20.
And there he was. Jesus.
The Jesus in all of us.
Kindness and love and forgiveness.
I felt that glow that I had lost long ago.
An old poem that I had cross-stitched many years ago came out of my top drawer.
Maybe an anonymous author:
He spun a thousand webs to capture me One was faith, and one was simple grace, A strand broken out into the wind … I look today at all the tattered ends And wove a web of prayer back up to Him.
Tonight I walked the dogs. And I looked up and saw the Big Dipper. I hadn’t looked up in a long time.
The beauty of this universe, the stars, the flowers, the oceans, that newborn baby. The mountains.
I stand stripped and humble.
And willing to forgive others.
And to forgive myself.
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