I was sitting on the Minneapolis Light Rail Transit train on my way home from an extra long day. As I work across town from my residence, everyday I witness the range of life and culture across my urban landscape. But I would never have expected to be a witness to the conversation I heard on the train that
He had entered the train a couple of stops after me. He sat two rows away from me facing in my direction. He was a large fellow. Maybe six foot three, with the weight and strength to support his frame. He was agitated and shaky. Maybe he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Maybe there were other influences in his life and mental state causing this agitation. Whatever the case, there was a great struggle within him.
She entered the train one stop later. A small, middle aged woman. She seemed comfortable in her environment. She was very confident as she walked his way and sat next to him.
He welcomed her with, “I want to fight.”
“No, you do not want to fight,” she responded.
“I would never have meant to kill him,” he said.
I marveled at her presence. A mother figure for a man that she did not know. Somehow she had entered his soul and understood his struggle and shame.
“I know you would not want to hurt anyone. God knows you are a beautiful person. You are a beautiful person. Did you know that?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“I have seen you ride on this train before. Do you have a job? Do you have everything that you need?”
“No. I don’t work well.”
“Are you getting the food you need? Do you have a place to sleep?”
“I go to the Union Gospel for food and sleep. Nobody gives me money.”
“You are doing the right thing. You need to take care of yourself. You are precious. You are God’s child. You didn’t grow up in Minneapolis did you?”
“I grew up in St. Louis. I lived with my Mom. He was so mean. He beat her when he was drunk.”
“Who beat your mother?”
“Her man did. He took care of us, but he should not have beaten her. He would drink too much and then he would beat her. I beat him up and scared him away.”
“You protected your mother.”
“But I could not help her with the money she needed for us. My mom had to work too hard to keep us alive. I had to leave because I could not take it anymore.”
“What was it that you could not take?”
“What I had done to her. I had made my mom unhappy. We would fight.”
“What is your name?” she asked.
“Freddie, you are a dear man. Your heart told you to help your mother. You love your mother and your mother loves you. You should go home to her.”
“I can’t. I hurt her too much. I don’t know how to help her. She doesn’t want me anymore.”
“Freddie, I am sure that she does.”
She covered his hands with hers and closed her eyes as if to pray. It only took a moment for me to see the change in him. He became calm. His shaking stopped. His eyes began to smile.
He stated, “It is time for me to go home. I know how to help her now.”
“Freddie, I am so proud of you,” she said. “What will you do in St. Louis?”
“My uncle has a metal shop. I think he will give me a second chance. I will show him how good I can work. I did not do good work for him before.”
“God has blessed you. Freddie, please take this money to help you get home. It should be enough for the bus.”
Soon we reached his stop. He got up and kissed the woman on the cheek. They held their hands together and gazed in each other’s eyes as they said their goodbyes.
As he began to leave, I reached in my wallet and grabbed five twenty dollar bills. I handed them to him and told him, “This is for your journey home.” He thanked me with kind eyes as he departed the train. I knew that he would use my money to help his mother. I knew I had witnessed something amazing.
As we continued our journey, I noticed that this remarkable woman was now agitated and shaking. She had closed her eyes and looked to be in a bad way. I moved over to her to ask if there was anything that I could do for her.
“No, I will be fine. Thank you for asking,” she responded.
“I witnessed a miracle. You are an amazing person.”
She gave a brief smile and then in a slightly labored way began to explain, “I was a social worker for many years. During my years I saw the suffering of so many, who in other circumstances, could have enjoyed fulfilling lives.
“Most of the people I supported just needed to understand how to support themselves and those they loved. Most started with nothing, and often grew up in an environment that did not model opportunities to understand how to achieve a better life. In most cases, the inertia of society suppressed their ability to succeed.
“Social workers try to navigate those we serve to find better lives for them and their loved ones. But it is a long process, and time and circumstance often interfere and prevent us from achieving our goals. I labored hard and long and prayed for a way to help them understand in an instant how they could rebuild their lives.
“The Lord answered my prayers. One day while working with a mother at the end of hope, and without knowing what to do next, I put my hand over hers and closed my eyes and prayed for her. When I opened my eyes, I saw her gazing at me with her eyes full of love. Her thoughts became clear. She suddenly knew what was needed to help her family. Of course the road for her was still long and difficult, but she navigated her family through all of their obstacles. Her children are now grown and in their own ways are living fulfilling lives.”
I said, “You do work miracles.”
“Maybe so, but you see, miracles are not natural for the people I serve. As God is a just God, the shame of their situation needs to be answered; not just the shame of the healed individual, but maybe to a larger extent the shame of a society that does not care for his children in need.
“At the moment that the mother found grace, my heart and mind suffered; suffered tremendously. It was as though I had taken over the suffering and shame of her situation. For weeks I strained to control the new thoughts that had taken over my mind. Thoughts of hopelessness and fear. At times I felt I was near my end.
“I was blessed with an effective way to help others, but it came at a great personal cost. As I have continued to help others, I have found ways to recover in more gentle ways. But everyone’s problems are different. There are always new feelings to fight during my recovery. I know I will suffer greatly for Freddie.
“Of course I could not continue to be a social worker as I spent too much time in distress. Now when I am well, I traverse the streets in search of those that need help. There are others who support my quest as they have learned of my capabilities.”
“Why do you continue when it is so harmful to you?”
“Because of Freddie and others in difficult if not hopeless situations. God blessed me with a unique gift to help others. I am very fortunate.”
“How can I help you?” I asked.
“You just helped this man. For that I am grateful. I am doing fine. I’m sure you will use your own unique gifts and energy to help others.”
“I have reached my stop, she said. I am glad to have met you.”
She struggled to get up and I offered to help. I gently reached for her arm. She responded by shaking away from me, raising her arm in a fist, and glaring at me saying “Fight!”. Then her eyes softened and she apologized as she slowly left the train.
I am not a religious person, but I have much compassion for the life and death of Christ; that he would endure six hours on the cross for the people he loved. I could not help but compare this to the compassion I felt for this remarkable woman who was determined to suffer greatly throughout her life for the people she loved.
Had I just witnessed a work of divine agency? What else could it be?