Who Is That Gazing Back At Me?
She taught me the priceless value of every living creature. I was visiting Russia when I met her. I knocked on her door and she invited me, a stranger, into her tiny two-room apartment. She lived monastically. The rooms bore little adornment except for icons of Jesus, Mary and various saints keeping watch from the upper corners of each room. The kitchen window was the apartment’s only light.
As we talked, the beauty of this elderly woman emerged. She had neither family, nor money, except for the small monthly government stipend she used to buy a meager loaf of bread. She showed no bitterness nor launched into diatribes of hatred.
Instead, she took me to the window to show me the doves she fed a portion of her bread to everyday. They were her dining companions and friends. She showed me her Bible, the only book she had. It was old and worn. I asked if she enjoyed reading. Unfortunately, failing eyesight had made that impossible for her. I asked if I could read to her and her eyes lit up as if I had given her a bountiful feast.
I revisited her each day that week, bringing food and reading to her for an hour. I prided myself on thinking she needed me, when, in fact, I needed her. In a city that was monochromatic in its wintry landscape, she was living color. Outside her apartment, the sidewalks, streets, buildings, even shrubs were all a drab gray. However, in her presence, in that austere apartment, I found warmth, richness, and depth.
On my final visit, she cupped my face in her hands and searched my eyes. I was looking into the eyes of a woman that my government’s propaganda had told me was my Cold War enemy and yet when I gazed back at her, I saw the image of God, “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”
I have a tattered and torn photograph of the two of us arm-in-arm. It reminds me that, though tattered and torn on the exterior, she was the most whole person I have ever met-someone who could see beyond life’s bitterness to its beauty.
These days, in the confines of my suburban ghetto I find I don’t reach out to others as often as I should. I long for a city, where I could buy a hot meal for the homeless. I try to look beyond the machine gun of the militant and into his heart, when I watch the latest news reports from the Middle East. Would I, honestly, act differently in defense of my home or in my struggle to provide food, water, shelter, clothing, and electricity for my family?
I believe life is sacred. Each person I encounter bears the image of God. As such, every chance meeting is an opportunity to give my respect and kindness to another; indeed, it is a chance to worship my God in His creation.
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