The Habit of Witness
And the Angels Danced: The Habit of Witness
We talked as we warmed our hands on hot mugs of coffee. A quarter-hour later the car was fixed; its battery had been recharged. I turned to thank Roosevelt. It was only then that I saw the tears in his eyes. "What's the matter, Roosevelt," I asked. "Why are you crying?"
"May I tell you why I fixed your car?"
"Yes, of course," I answered, not knowing quite what to expect.
"I was born a long time ago in Mississippi. We were very poor. Every winter I contracted pneumonia as a child -- our house was so poor. One year, I must have been about 10 or so, I was rushed to the hospital. With no antibiotics (recall this is in the 1930s, so antibiotics had not yet been discovered,) pneumonia caused the death of many children. The doctors had just told my mother that I would not last the night.
"That evening two Catholic Sisters, dressed just like you, entered my hospital room. I had a high, high fever and I remember one of the sisters came by my bed, put her cool hand on my forehead, and prayed for me. I didn't know what to do, or how to respond. I had been taught that no black could dare get near a white woman. And now here was this white Catholic nun, not only placing her hand on my head, but praying to God with all her heart for me. I had never heard nor seen anything like it. That's just how it was in those days. That's just how it was.
"Well, the next day my fever was gone. The doctor said I had passed the crisis; he didn't know why or how. But I knew. I never saw the Catholic sisters again. Throughout all these following years, I have wished I could find them and thank them. Today, just now, when you came into the restaurant and asked for help, I said to myself, ‘Roosevelt, your time has come to thank the sisters.' That's why I got up and offered my help. It was finally my time to return the favor."
By now tears were glistening down both our faces. It was a sacred moment. The windy parking lot of Spires Restaurant became a sacred place. We were standing on holy ground. Yes, times have changed. Thank God!
I looked up at Roosevelt; he stood at least a foot taller than I, and I asked with immeasurable respect and reflection, "Roosevelt, may I hug you?"
A big smile spread across his face as he turned to me and answered, "Yes, ma'am." At that moment in time, right there, a cold and frigid night, just off Sepulveda Boulevard, two of God's children embraced, shattering centuries of ignorance and prejudice.
More than a battery was made right that evening . . . and the angels danced!
Sr. Timothy Marie is a Carmelite Sister of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus of Los Angeles, a contemplative-active community with apostolates in Health Care, Education, and Retreats. She is working currently in the Communications Office of the Carmelite Sisters and is co-editor of their magazine, Spirit of Carmel (from which this piece is adapted), which promotes a deeper spiritual life among God's people through Carmelite Spirituality. The Carmelite Sisters Blog is here.