Its always surprising, the places you bump in to Christ…you expect to encounter Him at Mass, or in prayer at Adoration – a deep and profound spiritual encounter.
Last week I met Him in the middle of a busy shopping center, in the bright eyes of a small boy.
It had a been a looong day. A good day, spent at the beach with family, but a long one nonetheless. We’d called in to the shops on the way home for a few things. In an attempt to get things done quicker my husband went one way and I the other, with our two kids.
I’d gotten my part done and was waiting outside a Dome café, as arranged. With a fussy, hungry baby in the carrier, yanking at my shirt-front, and an over-tired 2yr old digging in her heels at every step, I desperately just wanted to go home. As I sat on the shopping center bench with them, trying to feed and calm and wipe away tears, a young school boy caught our attention as he leaped from bench to bench.
“Ugh…,” I thought as the boy lolled about on the floor, completely ignorant of passers-by narrowly avoiding him, “that’s all I need, a crazy kid to hype up my kid…”
I was fully expecting my exhausted, but fun loving daughter to want to join in his bench jumping, to which I’d say no, to which she’d throw a tantrum over. I was having enough trouble getting her to calm down from her current one over having to hold my hand when walking…
I was shushing and bouncing and wiping and patting all the while looking expectantly around for my husband who was (hopefully) on his way to meet us. I didn’t notice, at first, that my 2yr old had actually stopped crying. Just across from us, the young boy had started doing a silly dance which caught my daughter’s attention. When he saw how it made her smile he pretended to trip over, falling dramatically onto a bench. When he saw how it made her chuckle, he pulled silly faces at her. When he saw that it made her really laugh he began his dance again. I smiled in relief.
At this point, my husband found us, and the young boy disappeared so quickly that I actually began to wonder if I’d imagined it all, when I spotted him now sitting on another bench a few shops away.
It was nearly 5 o’clock, and given that our drive home would take an hour we decided on an early dinner at Dome, and so took a seat and ordered. While we were waiting for our food, my husband stepped away to take a phone call. Quick as anything, my new friend was back, and seated himself at a table just across from ours. He began to chat, telling me all about his times tables, his love for chicken-flavoured 2 Minute noodles, and how he was secretly wearing his favourite T-shirt under his school uniform. All the while he kept my hungry, grumpy girls smiling away with his funny faces, and would jump up quick as a flash if they dropped anything, with a shout of,
“I got that, easy, not a problem! I can do it,” before whizzing back to his seat.
Just as our food appeared so did my husband, and our friend scuttled back to his bench.
I watched him as we ate our dinner, bouncing around on the courtesy benches, occasionally disappearing into the hairdresser’s salon where I assumed his mother or sister was having her hair done. Despite his energetic and rather reckless antics, no one really seemed to notice him. Shoppers walking by simply side-stepped him, while those sharing his bench would merely bring their phones closer to their faces in an effort to block out his distractions. There was definitely no one keeping an eye on him.
As we neared the end of our meal my husband, who was already finished, ducked off to get one or two forgotten items, while I waited with our girls who were still pecking at the last of their food.
“Fives groups of five are twenty-five.”
Our friend was back.
“Yes it is! You really are very clever.”
“My mum’s 25. My dad’s 23.”
“Really? I’m 25 too. How old are you?”
“7, how old is she?” He points to my eldest.
“She’s 2. Her sister here is still a baby, she’s not even 1 yet.”
“I have a cousin who’s a baby! I have lots of cousins. Sometimes they punch me in the face.”
I don’t know what broke my heart more, his statement, or the matter-of-fact way in which he said it. I gave him as big a smile as I could manage.
“Oh no, you have such a lovely face!”
He smiled then, so sweetly, and the genuine pleasure in his face made me want to cry.
We chatted a little more and I learned that he also loved tacos, liked his school, and that he spent a lot of time at his cousins’ houses. Also that it was his mum in the salon and that she “wasn’t even close to being done yet”.
My husband came back and our small friend slid away before I could finish thanking him properly for “making my sad and tired girls smile again”.
We drove home in the dark, and as our babies slept, I told my husband all about my new friend. Poor boy, he was so hungry for friendship and for a little positive attention. It wasn’t hard to imagine what his life was like – having both worked in schools, we knew what neglect looked like.
He’d probably never heard of Jesus before, yet I could see Christ looking out of this sweet boy’s love-starved, green eyes, and couldn’t help but think of “blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God”.
At first I thought that God had sent this little boy along to help me cope with my cranky children, and I was grateful.
Then I thought that God allowed him to cross my path so that I could pray for him and I was full of pity.
Then I remembered my first response when I saw him, “ugh…” and I was ashamed.
As much as God may have sent me help or given me someone to pray for, He was first and foremost giving me a lesson in charity.
“Whatever you do to the least of these people, you do to me.”
I’d met Christ, in the middle of a busy shopping center and all I could say was “ugh…” but He went on to not just help me sort out my physical mess, but to help me with my internal mess. He calmed my children and calmed my heart and showed me the situation for what it was, a chance to show love to someone who desperately needed it.
I’ll let you figure out whether that someone was my friend, or if it was me.