Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Unclean Woman

There are some five million people in the city of St. Petersburg. There are sixty-three stations in the metro system. Every day, some 3.43 million people utilize this transportation. A train arrives approximately every sixty seconds. There are at least ten cars to every train. I am not a statistician, and I gave up on math long ago, but imagine the (im)probability of the situation that ensued this afternoon. Truly one in a million...or billion.

Three friends and I walked down towards the far end of the metro station in order to enter a less crowded car. As the metro zoomed nearer, we stood normally, not anticipating anything abnormal for another venture into the city.

Двери открываются. We heard the familiar voice of the automated message tell us that the doors have opened. Двери закрываются. The doors shut forcefully as we find a seat.

I pick a seat near a mother and toddler. Across from me, there is another mother and toddler. How unusual, I thought. It is always such a blessing (and surprise) to see young children in Russia. But something does not seem right. The mother and child across from me begin to shift more towards the left. After a few seconds, they stand up and move to the other end of the train car.

My eyes squint and start to burn. Something in the air is irritating my eyes, my nose, my breathing. What is that? I turn to my friend next to me and comment, "It smells like a port-o-potty. What is that?" We do not know. Yet.

The mother and child next to me also begin to shift in their seats, noticeably uncomfortable as everyone else in this part of the car. I turn to her and ask her what that odor is. "
Пахнет чем?" She does not say a word. She nods her head in the direction of the woman across from me. I am shocked. Horrified. Saddened.

The smell intensified in the cabin each time the train sped off from a stop. The flowing air circulated the odor. I breathed out of my mouth as much as possible. It felt suffocating.

Двери открываются. The doors open. A sea of people flood into the car, searching for seats. A woman sits down next to this woman, whose face is completely stuffed into the top of her winter jacket, whose head is covered with a puffy hood, hiding her eyes, her face, her hair.

Двери закрываются. I watch the woman's face who has just sat down. Moments later, she wrinkles her nose, gets up, and moves to sit next to me. I am suffocating again. This time it is from the profound sadness welling up inside of me. I feel completely helpless.

Двери открываются. Not again. The doors open. People pack in like sardines. The crowd disperses away from the woman. One, two, three times I see people attempt to sit next to her in the three empty seats surrounding her (of a total six in one row). Two on one side, one on the other. My heart breaks, and I begin to pray, remembering the story of the Bleeding Woman.

Двери закрываются. An older woman walks down towards the empty sets from the end of the car. This time, the woman sits directly in-between the hooded woman and my friend even though there is a seat available two spots away from her. Nonetheless, she walks triumphantly over to the woman, whose bag is somewhat strewn over part of the seat. The older woman snatches the bottom and pushes it onto her neighbor's lap. She sits. Not two seconds later, she gets up, scowling.

The hooded woman clutched her bag with red and white knuckles. She lowered her head deeper and deeper into her coat. She puts her head to her bag on her knees. No one can see her eyes, her face, her hair. I pray harder as I stare at her black boots, turned inwards towards one another.

Oh Lord, You are the only One who can see her face. Even though we turn away and even move away, You move closer. Even though we close our eyes and we turn our faces, You see her. I imagine you sitting right next to her, holding her hands, looking into her eyes, speaking her language in a prayer. Somehow, God, show her that you love her.

A few minutes later, she looks up. I see her face. The piercing green eyes, similar to those of the famous Afghan girl on the cover of National Geographic. She looks around to those who have moved away. She shifts her boots. She lowers her head to her knees. When the trail jerks back and forth, she lets it shuffle her in her seat.

I think, What was in those eyes? Vengeance? Sorrow? Suffering? I have no idea, and I am ashamed and saddened as I continue to pray for this woman. After all, she may be unclean on the outside like the gray-black slush of the streets, but she may also have a clean heart as white as fresh snow on the frozen Neva River.

Двери открываются.
Двери закрываются.

The Bleeding Woman (Mark 5:24-34)

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"

"You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?' "

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, "
Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

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