Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"A patron in my library"

Originally posted 10/20/05

Wednesday afternoon, I sat in the library at a table with my son's backpack as he did his math homework on the Internet 20 yards away. I was doing my Bible Study prep.

It was busy, but not noisy, and I was enjoying being "just a patron" in the library. It doesn't happen very often. One of the times I looked up to check on Sparky I noticed someone I thought I knew. Then she turned and I knew she wasn't who I thought she was.

The person I mistook this woman for comes to my church now, but my first interaction with her was probably 5 years ago at the library. She was one of our more desperate patrons,. She mumbled, she stared, she made little sense, she asked nonsense questions, she never smiled. She wanted videos, but couldn't produce a coherent thought about what videos she wanted. Not just any tape would do. She was hunched over, holding herself together physically, if not mentally. She was difficult. Crazy. Weird. All those oh-so-attractive words. On one of her visits, she told me that she wasn't allowed to see her grand-daughter, and it was killing her. Then she told me that same fragment-story every time she saw me for the next several weeks.

This same woman--call her "Lisa"--now comes to church regularly--because it's a block from her apartment. She fits in well with the 'normal' segment of society that peoples our library, still has some slightly deviant behaviors (now more in the realm of eccentricity than scary-weird), and lives with her daughter and her grand-daughter. She doesn't drive, and she can't hold a job, but she is a lovely person. I think of
Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies whenever I see her.

All this went through my mind yesterday as I looked at the woman walking between Sparky and me. In an instant, two pictures flashed in my head. "Lisa" as she was 5 years ago, and
Hedda Nussbaum (whom "Lisa" also vaguely resembles). This woman was doing the Eggshell Walk. The if-I'm-very-careful-where-I-step-I-won't-fall-into-the-chasm huddled clutch of a pacing walk, back and forth about 15 feet either direction. She was walking to Jerusalem between me and my kid in the public library.

Other people noticed her. They left a wide space around her, and they didn't acknowledge her, but they watched her like you'd watch a frothy-mouthed squirrel. "Walk slowly and ignore it, but shoot it if it comes toward you."

Meanwhile, Pacing Woman was oblivious, or at least inured. Her current pain was so much greater than anything outsiders could inflict. Five hundred years ago, she'd have been called a witch. Or a holy woman.

What do I remember mostly, though? The pockets in the seat of her jeans. Her pale blue T-shirt. Her bent shoulders and tense neck. Her electrical-socket hairstyle. Her blank face surrounding those eyes, which were staring past the walls and carpet of the library.

I looked back down at my "homework" where I found myself reading the following from our
study guide:

Holy. The word means "separate" or "set apart." ...Holy things and beings were utterly different from, utterly alien to, common things and ordinary creatures.

By the time we left, she was gone. Maybe she was a holy woman after all.

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