We got on the elevator with a woman we see about every now and then. She often stands on a corner, not far from where we live, asking passersby for change. We use debit so much that we often have little in the way of change, or cash of any kind, that we often can't give. When we do we do, she knows that. Seeing her inside was a bit of a surprise as we've never seen her where there isn't weather. The elevator we got on has three main destinations. The main floor where we entered, the basement where the grocery store we shop at lives and the second floor where there are courtrooms and lawyers and police and the people who are compelled to be there.
As we all waited together for the lift, I asked her to get on at the same time as Joe so I could then back on between them. She looked a bit nervous when I got on but I reassured her that I wouldn't back into her. She reached out and patted my shoulder saying, "No, I know you are a good driver." We pushed the button for the basement, she pushed the button for the second floor. These elevators are easily confused and sometimes go from floor to floor, in the right order, but without the doors opening. We went down first, then we started up, she said, "Are you following me?" We all laughed. Then it went down again and I asked her if she was stalking us and we all howled.
Several times when we were laughing she reached out and touched my shoulder.
I don't much like it when strangers touch me.
But this seemed different. I didn't mind it at all. I saw that the hand that touched me needed a good wash, I could see that they were hands that reached out, mostly, asking for charity. The skin on the hand was chapped from the cold and aged by poverty. Yet when she touched my shoulder I didn't react like I normally react when a stranger touches me. Perhaps it was because the context was one of friendly strangers on a bus that had broken down.
When we finally got off, it was on our floor first, we wished her well with the door opening on the second floor above. She patted my shoulder again and said that this was the first time she'd laughed this season. We all agreed that it was nice to have moments to pause and simply laugh and simply share times, even times with strangers.
I felt her touch on my shoulder as I drove away.
Normally when I'm touched by strangers I feel, somehow ... forgive me for simply stating what I feel ... used, or that something has been taken from me. My boundaries as a man feel violated somehow. Like I'm touched like a child, not an equal. Like I'm touched because I'm sitting and not standing. Like I'm touched with some kind of motive that I don't like.
But her touch was different.
It was a touch that seemed to want to give, not take.
A touch that wanted to enrich not impoverish.
And I imagine that hands that reach out to receive must have a desperate need to reach out to give. I felt as if those moments laughing on the elevator were a wonderful moment in day, in our whole season, and I consider that hand on my shoulder as we said goodbye and wished our Merry Christmases to be both a gift and a blessing.
The magic of the season begins ...