Friday morning I was waiting for the bus on Fraser Street in front of a convenience store.
Gradually, amid the urban hum, I became aware of a human voice screaming curses.
A young man stood at the pay phone in the convenience store parking lot, yelling into the phone.
I imagined a voice at the other end, reasoning with him, consoling him. Soon, I thought, he would quiet down, and talk about what had him so upset.
He continued screaming curses.
Soon, I thought, the person on the other end of the call will hang up on him. Then he will take his rage out on the nearest living thing. That would be me, the only other person on this street corner. I was afraid, but I held steady.
The stream of curses continued.
And I realized: there is no one at the other end of this phone call.
Then the young man raised his voice even louder and shouted, “This isn’t about me. This is about God!!!”
He was praying his heart out.
Rage, frustration, mental illness, whatever: his inner gates were open, and he was going to call God up and give God a piece of his mind.
I don’t know if he experienced God’s presence at the other end of the phone line.
I do know that sometimes it feels like I call and call and God doesn’t pick up.
Not long ago, I was sick for about two years. Symptoms included pain and exhaustion along with their psychological correlates, anxiety and depression. When I grasped how ill I was, I reached out to physician, physiotherapist, psychotherapist, and spiritual direction group. They helped.
But part of the work, I had to do myself.
Each morning I took a very slow three-block walk to a local café. There I chose a window seat, opened my notebook, and sat quietly. Most days, I wrote nothing. I just cried.
For weeks, I just cried.
After a few weeks, while I cried, I thought about my life.
Lost, languishing, grasping, stumbling through the motions, putting one foot in front of the other, offering a joyless façade…in short, a failure at this project of creating a meaningful life. That was how I experienced myself.
After a few more weeks, I remembered: even though I am a failure, someone has loved me.
My mother, my husband, my cats have loved me.
Not because of my good points. Not because of any good qualities they see in me.
But because of something intangible: our individual trajectories have intersected to create a point. And they chose to pause at this point, recognize me, and throw their lot in with me.
Few creatures have chosen to take this chance. And yet a few have.
This is a deep kind of love. I don’t know what it’s based on. I only know it exists.
After a few more weeks, I understood: this is God’s love.
We don’t earn it. We become aware of it through grace.
Angels had crossed my path, recognized me, and hoped I would recognize them. I hadn’t, even though they had changed course just so they could walk with me. For years, they had spoken to my heart, telling it there was nothing I had to do to be worthy. But my heart hadn’t heard.
When I was ill, I thought the phone to my heart had gone dead. That no one was on the other end of the line.
But I kept talking, in my own way. And found a Presence behind the silence.
I hope the young man I saw on Friday, with his psychic gates lowered, finds the health care team he needs.
And, as he continues to talk on his literal-metaphorical phone to heaven, I hope he finds the response that speaks to him.
I hope he can quiet himself just enough to hear it.