Spiritual Counselling and Holy Encounters: As far back as I can remember, I’ve always found it easy to befriend strangers. I’m not sure why it takes such little effort for me to make friends so easily. Perhaps it’s because I’m a person who likes people and enjoys getting to know them. I love to hear about other people’s life experiences and to sit with them for a while.
In February 2006, whilst visiting New York for a long weekend, I decided to go for a walk during my second day there. As I didn’t know my way around the city, I ended up walking for hours, and eventually strayed into an area that didn’t look too friendly. Then, on a street that was almost deserted, a man approached me looking for “money” or a “cell phone”.
At that moment I felt afraid because I thought that this man was going to attack me or steal from me. However, my gut instinct was to open up my purse and invite him to take whatever he needed, and that’s exactly what I did. I remained calm and said to him:
“I’m not sure what you need, so please, help yourself”.
The man looked at me in disbelief or as though I was mentally unbalanced. He then cautiously picked out some coins from my purse. I showed him my phone and offered it to him in case he needed to make a phone call. I explained that I was just visiting from Ireland. I had a picture of my son on my phone, and as it happened, this man also had a son about the same age. We then struck up a conversation that lasted several hours. It seemed as if this man’s entire life was in the small bag which he was carrying on his back. He opened up his bag and amongst other things, it contained numerous photos of his son.
As we chatted, he told me with a real sense of sadness that his son had been in foster care for most of his life. He had several newspaper articles in his bag that featured his son, and he seemed delighted to show them to me. This man’s son was a successful basketball player and his father was incredibly proud of him.
It’s amazing to see what happens when we take time to look beyond the superficial
His face was scarred and it was obvious from my conversation with him that he’d had a difficult life. He was no stranger to substance abuse and rough living. His head was bandaged, and his body was frail and undernourished. His clothes were dirty, and he looked disheveled.
It was obvious he found it most peculiar that I was interested in talking to him. He told me that people driving by would be wondering what the “white woman” was doing talking to him. Shortly after meeting him, he was referring to me as his “Irish angel”, whereas I believe that he was my “New York angel”. It was such an excellent example of why it’s important to see the light in others and to treat them as if that is all we see.
This chance meeting with James on a street in New York was truly a ‘holy’ encounter for both of us. It was a point in time when the light in me connected to the light in him; consequently, all obstacles to communication were removed.