Monday, September 20, 2004

All Right Now

This weekend, I was out running errands when I passed an elderly African American man slumped awkwardly in a wheelchair by the side of the road. I passed slowly, trying to determine whether he was okay. He was wearing more layers of clothing than it seemed to me the day called for, and stuffed plastic bags hung off the handles at the back of his wheelchair. He had a white stubble coming in as though he hadn't shaved in days. He didn't move. But he was in a passenger loading zone. I drove on, thinking, "He's fine. Someone's coming to by soon to pick him up."

But half a mile later, I gave up trying to ignore the tingly, alert feeling I'd had driving by him, and turned my car around.

I pulled right up to the curb alongside him. He didn't stir.

"Sir? Are you okay?" I called from inside the car.

His head moved slowly and he raised confused, rheumy eyes. It seemed to take him a moment to recognize the source of the voice, but eventually his eyes met mine.

"Ma'am?" He dragged out the word.

"Hi. I, uh, didn't mean to disturb you. I just wanted to make sure you're okay. That everything's okay."

As I spoke his eyes began to clear and he started to smile at me. "Well, Miss," he said very slowly, deliberately, and directly. "See, I was praying. I was with Christ. I was in a deep meditative state, praying for the world to be all right."

I'm not sure how to convey this, but suddenly it was obvious that was exactly what he'd been doing. Something in his face, in his voice, in his eyes. I felt a lump form in my throat.

"That gives me hope for the world," I surprised myself by saying aloud.

"Won't you pray with me?" he asked with a warm smile on his face.

"Yes, I will," I said.

I don't really know what he meant he wanted me to do. I didn't get out of my car right then and there and fall to my knees next to his wheelchair, head bent and holding his hand. Instead, I think I lamely said something like "Okay, then," gave a little wave and drove off. And he waved, still smiling serenely and warmly at me.

However, as I drove away my eyes brimmed over and my heart felt blown open. I laughed and cried at the same time and as much as I know how to, started praying for the world to be all right.