Many years ago, I lived in an apartment that had underground parking open to the street.

 Lots of people wandered through. Some pushed garbage carts loaded with possessions; some even stayed awhile.

One morning, on my way down with a friend, a man popped his head out of a large garbage container and crowed, “Hello!”

I jumped back, surprised. My friend ran to my car and jiggled the door handle.

“Get in the car, he could have a gun!”

I looked at my friend and said, ” He’s harmless.”

I clicked my key fob and the passenger door unlocked and my friend jumped in. I turned back to the human-jack-in-a-box in the garbage container, completely intrigued.

“What are you doing there?” I asked.

The man in the container said, ” I live here! This has been my home for 31 years!”

I smirked a little before bursting into a wide grin. “Really? I have lived here for 5 years and I have never seen you before!”

The man in the container smiled and said, ” Well, I haven’t moved. I can show you my driver’s license!”

I laughed.

I waved goodbye and went to my car.

When I got into the car, my friend was beside himself. “Why would you talk to him?”

“Why wouldn’t I talk to him?” I asked.

“Because he’s crazy and he might have done something to you!”

“Well, he didn’t do anything to me,” I said, as I started the car and drove out of the garage.

My friend clammed up for the rest of the drive.

A few weeks later on the way to my car, I saw a woman in her late 60s, dressed in a pink two-piece suit and pearls, lifting the lid on the garbage container.  I stopped and looked at her.  ‘Can I help you?”

She was so tiny and frail and immaculate in appearance. I had never seen anyone like her picking through the garbage container before. She started speaking in a foreign language I didn’t understand. Her eyes filled with tears.

” I don’t understand. I am sorry”, I said, touching my heart.

She surprised me by walking right over to me, wrapping her arms around my waist and laying her head on my stomach. I couldn’t believe it. I stood helplessly, arms like cooked lasagna noodles by my side, until my heart urged me to wrap my arms around her too.

After a moment, she stepped back and looked up at me. She took my hands in hers, pressed them like a flower against her heart, and kissed them. Then she walked out of the parking garage and back up to the street. I never saw her again.

*

A few years later, I was visiting a friend in another city. Her cleaning lady greeted me with a big ‘Hello!’ in a foreign accent, and told me, in broken English, that my friend was going to be late and to make myself at home. I unpacked my bag, took a shower and came down to make a cup of tea. The cleaning lady was in the kitchen finishing her tasks. I could feel a weight of sadness in the air.

I asked if everything was okay and she turned and burst into tears. She began pouring out her heart to me about all the losses of her life and the difficulties of her childhood and how she never dreamed anything could get better. I sat with her silently as she sobbed. She was embarrassed and told me she had to go fold laundry. Her whole body shook with grief. I told her that maybe she was more important than the laundry right now.

I knew if she lay down and breathed, she would feel better. But was it appropriate,  I wondered,  to help her, here, at my friend’s house?  When I asked internally, I heard these words:  There is an inevitability to mercy…

I told her I could help her breathe out her sadness if she wanted. She looked at me, her body still shaking with tears, and nodded, yes.

She lay down on the couch and I guided her to breathe – inhale connected to exhale for about 40 minutes.  Within a little while, her crying stopped and there was a calm in her eyes and in her body. She sat up and said, ” I feel peace. I feel full, not empty like before.”

We sat together talking for a few more moments before  I said I needed to go upstairs. When I stood up, she jumped to her feet and took my hands in hers and kissed them, then wrapped her arms around me and held me, just like the elderly woman in the pink suit had done years before. ✨

~ Christiane Schull

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