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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Unlikely Angel

We were sitting at a table on an outdoor patio of a local restaurant. It was a sunny warm day. Across a 40-foot stretch of grass there was a busy urban street edged by an uneven strip of sidewalk. I small fence enclosed the patio which was obviously more ornamental than functional.

As we waited on our meal I noticed a young woman negotiating the uneven sidewalk beside the busy street on a battery driven motorized tricycle. She appeared to have full use of her upper body but her legs were apparently paralyzed.

Just as she neared the stretch of sidewalk along side the patio the tricycle lurched sideways and she was thrown onto the grass. Apparently unhurt but in great distress she laid on the grass struggling to pull herself back aboard the tricycle.

I had an immediate response to jump the fence and run to her aid but I found myself hesitating. I looked across the table as if to ask “what would you think if I ran to the aid of this young woman?”. I found myself wanting permission to respond to this situation.

I knew that if I acted that I was on my own. I would not receive the slightest bit of encouragement and, that in fact, I would be opening myself to criticism.

Disturbed by this lack of support but determined, I jumped the small fence and ran toward the girl. Another man and I reached her almost simultaneously. We spoke not a word and together we righted the vehicle and lifted her back onto the seat. She was an unattractive woman, unkempt, overweight and exuded a smell that matched a surly attitude. Without a word or a look of thanks, the instant she was aboard she resumed her journey like a caged animal returning to the wild.

As I returned to my seat at the table I had felt that I had been the object of intense scrutiny and criticism. As I took my seat I realized I was feeling deeply disturbed. Was it because the young woman had offered not the slightest acknowledgment for the aid she had received? No, what was bothering me was that I had hesitated and actually considered doing nothing to help the young woman. I had even felt compelled to ask permission to take the action I intensely felt was appropriate. The lack of support I had sensed filled me with trepidation and now I felt guilt as though I had done something wrong when I returned from my mission.

At that instant I realized something in my life was amiss. What had happened to the confidence I used to have to reach out to those I perceived to be in need and to act decisively and swiftly in such matters? Wasn’t this one of the parts of who I am that had been so attractive to her in the first place? Wasn’t this something I had always revered in others and myself? What self-eroding forces had been at work in my life that I now felt that this vital part of me had to ask permission to be exercised? How had the reverence I had once felt for this aspect of myself turned to shame?

That day was a turning point in my life. An unlikely angel had been sent to show me a part of my life that needed attention and persistent vigilance lest I forget who I am. She had been sent to remind me that that I am ultimately responsible for the quality of my life and my relationship with all those I care for.


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