There's a place for us
I like to think I’m pretty level-headed. I don’t rush to conclusions. I weigh my options before making decisions. And, unless it’s absolutely necessary, I generally try to avoid crying in public. But there was this one day, see…
Let me give you the backstory. So, picture us 12 missionaries in England for two weeks, having our hearts stretched and faith strengthened and souls transformed. Then two days in London with joyous and restful sightseeing out the wazoo—love it. Then a bittersweet plane ride back to good old America, the land where it’s perfectly acceptable to say “pants” and “bummer.” (Ask me later.)
And when you’ve been on a journey like that, you spring for a shuttle from the airport. No matter how much you love the subway—and believe me, I LOVE the subway. So, you spring for the shuttle. You enjoy that ride with your 11 new closest friends and you pull up to the lovely New York apartment building (that you called home for a year, you lucky thing) where you’ll be resting your weary heads for the night and…
IT’S LOCKED. It’s dark. The lobby is closed. You’re keyless, clueless, helpless. HOMEless. You call and text the first 17 people you think of who live in New York and also happen to love you and…nada. (Okay. Just to be clear, this is me we’re talking about, not you.)
So I send the 11 others off to get their long-awaited Chipotle burritos—but wait! Our luggage. Oh, that’s just too much. Being homeless is bad enough, but toting bags upon bags up and down New York blocks? That just won’t do.
So I rush to my next door neighbor, the garage. I wish and I hope and I pray and—yes! Inside is my dear friend and favorite garage attendant, Alberto, who never speaks in English more than 50% of the time, but with whom I share a special bond, despite the language barrier. (I think it’s because I was praying the rosary when I passed him once.) He greets me in his flawless Spanglish and takes pity on me in my plight. We load our suitcases in a corner of his garage and set off unburdened, at least physically so.
I send the group off to the land of plenty while I take a panicked detour to my nearest Catholic church—57 seconds if you hit the lights right and walk like a New Yorker. My desperation mounts as I ring the rectory doorbell. What will I say? I think to myself. I’m homeless, please help? The door opens. I’m let in. Monsignor is summoned. The clouds part. “Oh, no! This is an emergency! We have to figure this out!” Dropped everything to come to my aid, he did. Me, a mere stranger, a face among many he may have caught a glimpse of at an odd daily Mass or two.
Here I am, says the Lord. You’re in my hands.
So Monsignor calls and texts and emails his battalion of connections. Nothing yet. “But,” he says, “I have a feeling: by 6:00 tonight this will all be sorted out.” “If all else fails, can we sleep on your floor?” I ask. “Of course you can,” he replies.
So I go off to join the ranks, comforted by the ability to exercise some small degree of control and decision-making (vegetarian bowl, brown rice, black beans, no, I haven’t changed my mind about the meat, thank you).
I relay the information. We have a floor, I say. Nope, no beds or showers. But hey! Did you hear the part about the floor? Oh, and there’s a roof, too! But inside I’m crumbling. I’m failing them. They’re exhausted. They NEED more than a floor. We discard our foil and cardboard and go to transfer our worldly possessions from my wonderful garage friend to our new resting place.
After opening with some praise and worship (Hello, tears. Please get back in your ducts where you belong.), we have a brief meeting to begin to share our trip experiences. Then we cross the street to pray our holy hour and go to Mass. The ducts open.
Do I generally try to avoid crying in public? Yes. Is it absolutely necessary? Sure feels like it.
I kneel and I kneel, I cry and I cry. Why, Lord? Why does this cut me to the heart so? Why this sorrow?
And this is it: all I want to do is love and care for these people, my brothers and sisters, my friends. And wait—not only do I want to love and care for them, I want to SAVE them. Oh, no. Jesus. This mustn’t be. I cannot. Not now, not ever. You have. And You are. And not only that—I need to be loved and cared for. I need to be saved. Jesus, save me!
His answer comes. It comes with a flood of grace, with peace. My tears continue but they fall with joy. And I get off my knees to sit in my chair. I look to my left, and there is a card. Emma, it reads. I open it and begin. It is as if God Himself has written each word. New tears stream down my face. I continue to read this godsend of a card, words so lovingly written by my dear sister Emily. And I come to the end and see:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”
This moment. God, You have arranged this moment. You want me here. There is nowhere else I’d rather be, no state I’d rather be in. Here we are, face to face. Our hour finishes. Mass begins and ends and I am held, held by the love of God at every precious moment.
We venture down the street to Little Italy and find a perfect corner restaurant to share our last dinner together. I look around and bask in the joy of it all. The joy of being fed, of being loved, of belonging—if not really belonging any place in particular, at least belonging to each other. Of belonging to Him. I wrench myself from the perfection of the present to check my phone for updates. And what do I find but texts, missed calls, a voicemail. All from the keeper of the key. The key to that lovely New York apartment building that I called home for a year.
You lucky thing.
No, not lucky. Loved.
I do not pass go and I run—RUN—the seven blocks back to that blessed street corner, my sandals slapping the gum-kissed sidewalks, dodging oncoming cars that have the nerve to go at green lights. She is there, the keeper of the key. She has just returned to her Connecticut home from vacation and has driven all this way into the city. For us. For me.
I return triumphantly to our restaurant, key in hand, hand in air. Cheers abound. All is right with the world. And for the last time, we transfer our things, my former neighborhood becoming more precious to me at every corner. The key opens the door, and we are home.
God, thank You for loving and caring for me. For SAVING me. And for doing so not just gently and fatherly, but passionately. With such strength and vigor.
And I believe it: You WILL come back again and take me to Yourself. So that where You are I also may be.