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This One Little Thing
bibliomaniac
Praying for Strangers which was based on "A New Years Resolution" debuts with Berkley hardcover April 5, 2011
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"Look Down Here Lord"

My normal resolution list looks something like a worn letter to Santa. I want to learn Italian just like 'a spy'. To gym myself into super-human shape. To write an old-fashioned letter to a friend once a week. The last one I managed to keep up for months before it became mangled and lost in my messy life. But on the eve of 2009 I had a different resolution cross my mind - To pray a blessing on a stranger I passed in the world everyday. With that thought came the memory of a woman I had met in a park a few years before. This is the way it happened:

I am lying on blanket in Bicentinial park. A woman approches me carrying a multitude of bags. Talking first to herself, then to me.

She approaches me and asks if I have a dollar to spare.

"No," I tell her, which is true. I'm usually good for a dollar and don't care where it goes. What matters to me if it's on drink or the lottery or warm soup. It's the giving of it that interests me. But on this day I have no dollars to give.

"Not a dollar," I say. " Not a dime."

The woman pauses. She looks down at me. I cup my hands over my eyes to shield them from the sun, focus on the shadow of her. She puts down her bags and shuffles through her jeans. "Look here she says, God have mercy on me when I don't have something to give. Let me help you out." So she pulls out a worn dollar from her jeans, a dollar that has seen some things, and rattles out coins from half a dozen pockets. "For you," she says. I start to protest but she pulls up her pants, shows me her metal leg trailed by her metal foot. "Lost it in a wreck," she says. "All I have to do is show people my leg and tell them my story. I'll get a dollar." No doubt, I think. And why not? If a metal leg isn't worth a dollar, the story about the losing of one kind and the gaining of another, sure should be.

Then she asks me my name - which she likes a lot and tells me hers - Esther. I tell her I like her name, too.

Then Esther tells me to keep the amber in my hair and that I should always wear earth tones. "Listen to what I'm saying now." She searches for a match, "And don't forget, earth tones look best on your skin. You don't smoke do you?"

"Not anymore."

"Well, you might not believe me but I know what I'm saying.I know about colors." She gives up on the light, returns the cigarette to her pack. Says, "Reckon God's telling me I didn't need that smoke no way."

Remembering Peter - (Silver and gold I have none but . . . ) I offer to pray for her. It's the least I can do yes? Afterall, I'm a believer. What else does a believer do?

To be honest, I don't remember praying for Esther for what was (or wasn't) in her bags, for her metal leg, for her riches, or the lack of them. But I remember Esther praying for me. Because she did. A high and mighty, somebody sure is listening prayer. An open-handed prayer. Esther prays for this pilgrim with all her homeless heart.

And then she walks off saying, "Remember me in your prayers, River Jordan." Then praising God for something I can't hear. For just a moment I watch her go and think about the angels unaware verse. But Esther looks real, all real woman less one le  

Later, my husband says, incredulously, "You took money from a homeless woman?"

"Yes," I say, "and candy too - look she gave me pieces of things." And so she did. Bits of mints and old pieces of gum. I save them for a long, long, time before I finally throw them away.

I couldn't explain the logic of that act. Me taking money, taking candy, from someone living on the streets and in between them. There was none. Just me and Esther caught in a moment in the park. A simple slice of time where one human being meets another and there is that momentary bubble - that moment of stranger-to-stranger acknowledging that we are alive and the same in spite of - everything. Regardless of our political stance, our faiths and affiliations, our social or economic status or the lack thereof. We are just sisters with stories to tell. That we could pass a few minutes, or even hours, in one another's company and both be the better for it.

Later that night I step inside a church and I place Esther's money in the offering. I write her story and her name on the back of the envelope and pause a moment before I turn to leave. I am thinking of the widow with the coin. Of how the smallest gift can be the greatest.Of how Esther dollar reeks of selflessness. Of an open palm and unclinched hand. And I pray miracles for Esther.

Some nights Esther's parting words, "Pray for me," echo in my soul. Not every night, but some nights. Particularly in the evenings when I lie in my warm bed, sometimes before I fall asleep I remember and I pray, "Lord, keep Esther warm tonight. And give her food, and keep her safe."

And that has been my resolution since that day. So many days, so many strangers. Sometimes I've told people in passing. Their responses have amazed me. Apparently, we all long for someone to open their heart to our condition, to turn their minds to our lives if only for a moment. Many times, I've just silently whispered a blessing on their lives. The odd thing for me is that I don't forget them. They are etched into my heart forever, their faces shuffling and finding their way to me at odd hours. As I move into yet another New Year for 2011 I continue what I suppose has become a spiritual discipline, a way of life, as much as a resolution well worth keeping. The only one I've ever kept. And the stories of the people I"ve met along the way and their reactions to a simple offer to say a blessing for them before a fall asleep, to wish goodness and mercy and grace on their life, have taken on a life of their own. So I continue to say a prayer for passing strangers, not always knowing that I have made a difference, but at least hoping that I have. And that hope is all that matters. Believing that one small soul remembering another counts for something special. And in that accounting there is power. And in that power, purpose. And in that purpose, Peace.