Love lives, dear hearts.
Nancy got in the cab, winded from running after it in the morning traffic. She gave the driver an address, and he turned on the meter. At first, Nancy didn’t pay any attention to the medallion license posted in the back seat of the cab. She was too upset to notice much of anything after reading the first text message of the day on her phone. Her eyes were turned towards the traffic and the pedestrians outside, but she didn’t see them. No, she was caught up in a flurry of emotions all at once—fear, dread, anger, sadness, and much cynicism. The idealism of her younger days had been all but disappeared. Self interest and self preservation in the world was all that mattered. This was the final nail that sealed her own hardened heart.
Her body was reacting. Her face felt flush, her chest was tight, her stomach—or wherever nauseousness is born--was signaling its protest.
The cabbie’s voice broke into her thoughts. It had a foreign accent, and she couldn’t understand the words, but it was followed by a laugh that needed no translation. Nancy leaned forward. “I’m sorry, what did you say?” The voice responded and once again the words were not understandable---and again, laughter followed, but bigger this time. Nancy tried again, “Excuse me? Are you speaking to me?” She thought for a moment that he might be on his cell phone, but he wasn’t. More words that sounded like gibberish came from the front of the cab, and more laughter. But it was laughter, ummm, with a kind of child-like innocence to it, and it was, well, contagious. Nancy couldn’t help but smile, and a small chuckle unexpectedly and involuntarily escaped from her mouth. “I’m trying to understand what you are saying, but it seems as though we aren’t communicating very well,” she said through the partition separating herself from the driver. And surprising herself, she laughed as she said it.
The cab driver immediately responded in a faster-paced jumble of words she didn’t recognize, interrupted at random phrases or new sentences with more laughter, and now he was gesturing with his hands back towards her and slightly turning his head around in her direction. She just went with it, and started telling him about the text message she had gotten on her phone, and how upset she was, and she wasn’t sure what she was going to do, and she suddenly started to laugh, and she heard him laugh from the front, interspersing it with more gibberish—“was he actually responding to what she just said?”--- and she laughed at his response and well… the two of them were suddenly simultaneously laughing uncontrollably. The driver pulled the cab over to the side of the street and stopped, apparently unable to focus on anything but the laughter, and Nancy was buckling over in the back seat, gasping for breath in convulsion, tears flowing out of her eyes. They laughed together for probably a good two or three minutes nonstop, in one of those moments where you can’t stop laughing even though you have no idea what you are laughing about.
Eventually their laughter died down, Nancy reaching into her purse for tissue, the cabbie blowing his nose into a napkin. There were a few more final chuckles, and Nancy looked around and realized they were near her destination. She said, “I’ll get out here, this is fine”, as she handed the driver a twenty dollar bill. “You can keep it all,” she said, chuckles involuntarily emerging from her again like an old car sputtering to shut off. The cabbie turned to her full-faced, and said in clear English,
“ Thank you very much”, and then, smiling, he reached through the small opening in the partition and gently put his hand on hers. It was only for a moment, and no words were exchanged, but she looked into his eyes and felt an extraordinary communication of the heart.
He continued to smile at her as she prepared to leave. As she slid across the seat to the door, she noticed the license on the partition. His picture was on it, and he was smiling, but where his name would be printed, it just said LL. There was nothing else on the license either—no medallion number, no Taxi and Limousine Commission stamp. Just LL and his picture. She reached the door, opened it and got out, and just before she shut the door, they looked at one another one more time. He laughed and smiled at her and she laughed in response.
Nancy walked quickly down several streets, feeling better after her encounter in the cab. She stopped for a light at one of the busiest intersections of the city with eight lanes of traffic. An elderly woman, who looked as though she might be in her 90’s--seriously bent over and with a cane--began to cross just as the light was about to change.
She was a remarkable sight. On top of her blazing, fire-engine-red hair she wore an oversized black cowboy hat with a gleaming gold buckle on its rim. She had giant round yellow glass frames that looked like two saucers framing her eyes, and enormous green emerald earrings with hoops that echoed the glasses. Her makeup was thick, dramatically emphasizing her eyes, with cherry lipstick that appeared to create more lip than she naturally possessed. The body was covered in a saucy, many-layered wrap of black silk and animal fur with a sexy cut up the side of one of her legs. She had multiple rings on her fingers and nail polish that matched her hair and lips.
As she crossed the street with the speed of a turtle, the traffic that had the right of way in her path simply stood still. She walked one lane to the next, paused, turned to the waiting car and their driver, and gave them a cheery (but dignified) salute and smile, then proceeded on to the next one. What was amazing was that no one honked their horn. Along with other astonished New Yorkers, Nancy watched this phenomenon with awe and admiration. When the woman approached the sidewalk where Nancy was waiting, she stopped for a moment, looked up at her and said with a smile, “That’s how you do it, honey”. Nancy spontaneously reached out to her and gave her a kiss on the cheek, which clearly delighted the woman. As Nancy pulled away, her bag become momentarily entangled with the woman’s and as they sorted it out, Nancy did a double take, noticing that her bag was embroidered on the front with the letters “LL”. She thought that was so weird, but the light changed and she grabbed her chance to cross the street.
Some minutes later she decided to take a shortcut and was passing through a quiet but shabby neighborhood. The paint on the houses was peeling, many of the small yards were untended and full of trash. There was graffiti on some of the buildings. On the other side of the street was a barren-looking housing project with a faded city sign that welcomed visitors to these “houses”. Nancy picked up her pace a bit, especially as she began to pass by the project buildings. A little girl about 5 or 6 years old was standing on the sidewalk. As Nancy passed her, she got a sense that something was wrong, but felt that she probably lived in the project and it was none of her business anyway. And then she stopped dead in her tracks. Right behind where the girl was standing she saw a crudely painted advertisement on the building for a chicken restaurant called LL Chicken and Grits, with an arrow pointing presumably to the restaurant down the street, if it still existed. She looked at the little girl. “Are you ok?” The little girl stared down at the sidewalk for a moment, and then suddenly burst into tears. Nancy bent down and asked her what was the matter, where were her parents, did she live nearby. The girl kept crying and crying, with Nancy shhhhh-ing her and trying to comfort her, all the while looking to see if anyone would claim the child or help her out. There were very few people around, and none took any interest in the little drama playing out on the sidewalk. Nancy took some tissues out of her bag and wiped the tears from her face, and noticed that the girl had a large scar on one cheek that went down her neck. She put her hand on the girl’s head and rubbed her back, until finally a little voice emerged through a few remaining sobs. She was lost, she didn’t know where her mommy was, and she didn’t know where she lived. Nancy checked to see if she had any identifying objects or papers with her, but there were none. How did she get there, Nancy asked, and the little girl pointed to the subway entrance at the end of the street. “Well, we’ll find your mommy, don’t you worry,” Nancy said, realizing to herself that all her own plans would now have to go out the window. This little girl, so vulnerable and lost. On this day, especially, she could relate.
They were together for many hours in police stations and social service agencies in different parts of the city. Nancy refused to leave the little girl by herself in the care of the various officials they encountered. She got her a happy meal from McDonald’s which had a Smurf toy in it, and tried to keep her occupied with stories and little games as they waited throughout the day. As she sat beside her in one office, she looked at the scar on her face, wondering what had happened to this child. To Nancy, the scar made her all the more precious. It revealed on the outside, she thought, the damage on the inside that we all walk around with every day. The enduring damage that is often done to us when we are most vulnerable and innocent. The damage that handicaps us, and that threatens to kill our hope and our dreams.
They found the little girl’s mama, who was frantically looking for her for hours. She had two other children with her when she arrived. They had been on their way to register for a new shelter for the night, and she lost her little girl on the crowded subway train. Nancy stood off to the side and witnessed the happy and tearful reunion, and she couldn’t help herself as her own tears flowed freely down her face. One of the officials revealed Nancy’s role in the process to her mother, and the woman approached Nancy with gratitude in her eyes and said, “Bless you for taking care of my baby.” And then the little girl took her hand and kissed it. And then she gave Nancy the Smurf toy as a gift.
Nancy left the building and started to walk. She turned a corner and saw a big church that she recognized. As an uncle had recently noted to her, it had been a long time since she ‘had darkened the doorstep of a church’, but she suddenly decided to go inside, climbing the steps up to the door. She pulled, but discovered that it was locked. That’s when she heard a voice coming from what she thought was some garbage to the side of the door.
“It’s closed. Won’t open till tomorrow morning at 7 o’clock.”
Nancy looked over and saw a man dressed in too many layers for the weather, sitting just inside a cardboard box. He was missing some teeth, but his face had a goodness to it.
“You don’t need to go in there. He’s everywhere, you know. Probably more out here than in that place. Love lives, dear heart, love lives everywhere, yessir. You have a nice day now. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
Nancy smiled at him, and thanked him. She felt in her pocket for some money, and the Smurf toy fell out. Her companion spotted the Smurf immediately. “Oh, Little Lucky, I love him, yessir”. Nancy of course handed him the figurine, and then she gave him 10 dollars.
As Nancy walked home, she noticed the people all around her on the streets of the city. Some were smiling, some looked stressed, some looked preoccupied, some clearly were on a mission. A young Latino couple walking together but both intently staring at their cell phones. Several young Orthodox Jewish men evangelizing to passersby, asking “Are you Jewish?” before they began their spiel. A man outside CVS unloading boxes of tissues from the back of a big truck. Two cops sitting in their car, waiting by the curb. A small herd of middle-aged men dressed in suits and ties coming out of an office building. A couple of women walking into a restaurant arm-in-arm. A Muslim woman wearing a hijab and pushing a stroller with a baby in it. An elderly man getting a haircut inside the full-length window of a barbershop.
Nancy saw this incredible richness of humanity flowing past her and she suddenly felt elated. She was not the same woman who left her apartment in the morning. Love lives, dear heart, love lives everywhere, yessir. It was true, and she had experienced it all day, beginning with a cab ride and ending at a locked church door. It is true, you know. Love lives everywhere, and it touches even our most hardened and scarred hearts.
Love lives, dear hearts, alleluia, alleluia, He is risen for all of us. Happy, happy Easter.