Sunday, April 15, 2007

blessed are the meek.

I rarely write with the iPod going. But tonight it’s different. Tell me if you notice a difference.

If your eyes are open, life will give you more stories in a day than you can keep up with. Even before noon. This morning found me in my usual Saturday spot – praying in front of an abortion site. First warm day in months.

This activity isn’t something you discuss in ordinary conversation. Not only is it an unpleasant subject to begin with, but the pro-abortion propaganda forces have enjoyed hegemony in the marketplace of ideas – well, actually, they’ve cornered it, insofar as it occurs in the collective media mind. That is to say, they’ve marginalized those people who not only see what abortion really is, but are so engaged with life that they allow their consciences to govern their actions and are therefore compelled to put their feet to the street in peaceful protest. Constructive protest. Prayerful protest.

Let me prove it to you. What is the first thing you think of when someone says, “I’m a person engaged in pro-life work who prays outside of an abortions site?” You think of one notorious incident in which a deranged individual shot an abortion practitioner dead, don’t you? If that isn’t all you think of, it comes to mind, I’ll bet. It is likely, at least, that you’re suspicious. Even I used to be. The unarticulated question is, "why rock the boat?" I'm sure German citizens felt the same way in 1939.

But do you ever hear about a 6’ 5”, 350 pound man cornering a 5’5” 150 pound sidewalk counselor for doing nothing but offering literature and Rosary beads and saying to him, “If you come at me again I’m gonna FUCK YOU UP!” as he “escorts” a young lady in to have her abortion?

Probably not. However, you would if the situation were reversed and allowed to escalate.

I was on my knees, oblivious and in prayer as this occurred, but not my sidekick, a former Transit policeman who, at 67, still has a plenty of Marlboro Man about him. More than most men my age. And far more time – decades more time – in this activity than I do. I’ve never seen anyone at any age move as fast and as purposefully as he did, off his chair like a shot and right into the mix. Even after the tense gentleman had changed his mind and peacefully walked his lady into the building, John’s great big hand was still locked into a great big fist. It’s good to have a great big fist, because just having it means you probably won’t have to use it. Ronald Reagan called it, “peace through strength.”

But this isn’t even my story. See what I mean?

My story begins a few minutes later, when Katherine strolled up with her dog, Blackie. Katherine looked to be age itself. If you had told me she was 90 I would have believed you. I had a hard time reconciling her at 75 with the ex-Transit cop at 67. There might as well have been 80 years between them, as 8.

Katherine was about 4 ½ feet tall with a face like very old, broken-in leather. Something about her eyes looked a bit off. She talked like she was drunk, but of course, it wasn’t necessarily so. The very image of what was once heartlessly referred to as a “bag lady,” especially with those eyes, yet something about her demeanor argued against that. She was not fat or skinny, but aged and worn and talkative and as well dressed as someone whose faculties are in question might be after even a real effort. She addressed my sidekick in broken English.

“You help me find 36,” she asked? “Over there” said, John, pointing over there. You sound like you’re German,” he offered. “Whaaaaa? I am a voman,” she corrected. Conversations like that don’t last too long. John repeated himself and she mumbled something about “so tired…walking too much…I need cab…” Once more John pointed “over there” and she said, “You reeelijiss, and you no help me.” And she walked away.

I had formed a picture of a woman with Alzheimer’s out walking her dog who just couldn’t find her way home. She wasn’t crazy – she was old. And lost. She said as much. And tired because she’d been walking around, lost, with Blackie, faithful Blackie, for some time. Who knows how long?

I haven’t been in New York long enough to let someone like that walk away and convince myself she’s going to manage. And I never will be, even if I die here. This was an aged, partly incompetent woman, walking the streets – the streets of New York City, nearly clueless and nearly defenseless. I thought these thoughts long enough to watch her turn the corner at the end of the block. I thought them a little longer, before I could take it no longer, and left my sidekicks to find her and get her a cab, at least.

I thought she had disappeared but, no, there she was, drifting back into the direction she had come from, on a street a block away. “Hello,” I called, as I caught up with her. Blackie regarded me with an alert gaze. She turned and looked at my face. Her eyes – blue, slightly crossed, the lazy one overcast with a cloud of a cataract. “I’m so tired,” she said. “Been walking so long…” When she talked, her upper plate looked as if it was about to take flight from her mouth.

“Come to the corner with me,” I said, “and we’ll get you a cab.” I was talking in the sort of voice you use when talking with a toddler or a very elderly person. I don’t like using that voice. “Do you know where you live,” I asked.

She started to rattle off an address and I said, “OK, just tell the cab driver. Come to the corner.” Blackie strolled alongside, confident and contained. At the corner he began to bark at me. I told him to calm down. It was there that I asked her the name of the dog. It took me three tries before I understood that “he is black. His name is Mr. Black, but we call him ‘Blackie.’” He was nearly feisty now. I looked him square in the eye and told him, “Blackie, you take care of her, now.” But he didn’t need to be told that.

At least two cabs passed by a block or so away. I decide to try to find one but before I left Katherine to do so I fished an “Our Lady of Guadalupe” prayer card from my overcoat pocket and give it to her. I don’t think I articulated a prayer but if I had it would be, “Our Lady, watch over this helpless woman.”

Two cabs went right by Katherine while I walked up the block looking for one. There is a cab parked outside a house, the driver obviously off duty and probably in bed. I never noticed that cabs in New York do not have telephone numbers on them. No need, as they’re always prowling about looking for you.

I decided to walk back to the corner, into Lena’s coffee shop, to ask Lena or her cook if they know the number of a cab. The cook called a car. “Five minutes,” he says. I return to Katherine’s side.

Blackie lets me have it. “Where did you go,” he barked? Katherine addresses me. “You are Jewish,” she asks? “No.” “My son-in-law is Jewish,” she said. “He is a very good man.” “Probably,” I thought. “But what’s he doing letting you walk around and get lost in Long Island City like this.” But what I said was, “I’m sure he is.” She has children, a daughter at least. Where are they?

That was when, despite my good manners, my curiosity about her age got the best of me, and I asked her, “How old are you.” I instantly regretted it. “Seventy-five,” she said. When she spoke, she made declarations, confident and sure, as if the words, “and that’s that” were attached by default to the end of every sentence. It was rather charming; it reminded me of a little girl explaining how the world works to her parents. “I figured you for fifty,” I joshed. “Fifty” she snorted!

After a moment a shiny, charcoal Town Car pulls up. The passenger windows descend, and the words, “you call?” reach our ears in broken English. “Yes, yes,” I say. Leaning into the passenger window, I hand the driver a bill and say, “Please get this woman home. She knows her address.” I open back door for Katherine. “OK, in you go.” She and Blackie settled in, looking as natural as could be.

[ be continued]


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