I still remember August 9th, 2011 as though it was yesterday. It was the start of a year of several graces and surprises.
It was the day I met a beautiful middle-aged woman named Gisèle Boucher.
It was the day I learned to love a human being completely and wholly.
It was the start of a journey of about a year of experiencing and seeing what it is like to befriend a beggar, a panhandler, a poor, a homeless, ad infinitum…(insert any related synonym) all in order to see that Christ truly lives in the soul of each creation.
Each one of us, myself included, living in a city/urban setting especially, have the tendency to overlook things in life. We quickly skim over a text at work without reading every word. We try to get from point A to point B and never notice there are other human beings on the street walking, living and breathing the same air that was breathed in by us from God , irrespective of their awareness or belief of it. We don’t “see” things which are not “essential” in a utilitarian way.
I can’t say (gratefully) that I’ve been totally absorbed in that tendency, but I can admit that I do carry the stain of it. I say this because I do like to look at people’s faces when I walk downtown and smile at them. I like to wonder where someone is going and wonder why someone doesn’t look well. I like to wonder what kind of home they’ll be returning to after work. But that is the working class, public servants mostly. I failed to look into the eyes of a panhandler and wonder the same things I wondered about the others. This changed when I met Gisèle.
Gisèle often begged for money outside St. Patrick’s Basilica, where I attend daily (and now Sunday) Mass. August 9, 2011, I was early for Mass and thought I would spend some time browsing books at the bookstore (where I now work). I walked passed Gisèle, without acknowledging her. But the Lord prompted me to return to her right away and offer her the tub of blueberries I happened to have on me that day. That very simple act turned into a conversation which lingered on for a year and most importantly, a beautiful friendship I never knew or thought possible.
I called her every three or four days to see how she was doing until her phone became out of service and stopped seeing her. Over the course of that year, I prayed with her inside a church, I cried with her, I hugged her, I sat on the dirty streets of downtown Ottawa while she begged, I got nasty glances from passerbys and I met Christ. Growing in my friendship with her enabled me to truly die to myself in so many ways. When I prayed with her, I was in a way praying with Christ. When I cried with her, I was crying with Christ. When I hugged her, I was hugging Christ. When I sat on the streets, I was sitting with Christ. When I got nasty glances, Christ was the one who actually received those glances.
“Whatsoever you do to the least one of my brothers, you’ve done unto me.”
I haven’t seen Gisèle in a very long time. In 2012, I wrote her a four page letter which explained how much of a blessing her friendship was in my life. I never gave it to her because I was not able to see her. As difficult as it was, and regardless of whether she remembers me, her life was a gift to me. I was able to see the King among the beggars and the weak.
Pax et caritas.