I saw her across the plaza on a cool spring afternoon.
I was wandering a foreign city, exploring its history and majestic architecture with my chubby baby gurgling on one hip. And I saw her. She looked old, and she paced the cobblestone street in front of an old building, back and forth, back and forth, a wisp of cigarette smoke trailing softly behind her.
“Don’t bother with that one,” a local said with open disdain. “That’s legal here. She chose her profession.”
My idealistic heart felt a sudden and crushing hurt. She couldn’t have just chosen this as a career, like choosing pizza or cheeseburgers in a cafeteria line. If that was true, she must not have had anything from which to choose. My steps slowed, and I let the others in our group move ahead, toward their sight seeing and shopping destinations.
Standing partially behind a pillared building, I watched the woman for a few minutes. Pale red, frizzed hair. Her eyes sagged, swathed in blue frost. She looked too tired for high heels. Every now and then, a man’s face appeared in the window two stories up. He surveyed his cobblestoned world, a king in his tower, and was quite obviously watching over what he considered his property below. I began to seethe with anger and rebellion toward a culture that would accept this woman’s plight, and stand by, doing nothing.
I fiddled with Baby’s sling, and patted her soft fuzzy head. She blew spit bubbles at me, grasping at strands of my ponytail, which was coming undone in the wind. My beloved daughter. If only we could shelter all the world’s daughters from injustice and poverty and cruelty and addictions! If only the daughters of our world were treated with dignity, worth, and respect! I hugged my daughter closer, wishing to shield her from hate and wickedness. Wanting to shelter her. Hide her from the truth of a sometimes brutal world.
But then my heart began to come undone just like my hair, in the fresh force of the spring wind. I breathed deeply, and asked myself if it was possible to change the world. Possible to change the world of one person. What could I do? I was alone in a foreign country with a baby in tow. What can any of us do, faced with injustice and hardship and pain? Fight? Yell? Scream rebellion? Complain or blame someone? None of that would help this one woman, this day.
She needed gentleness to ease the pain… kindness to soothe the hurt of her circumstances, which would perhaps not be changing. She needed compassion. She needed someone to tell her that she had dignity, and worth, and that she was loved by a God whose presence she had perhaps never encountered.
I left my pillar, hoisting Baby up. Heart beating, I walked across the plaza. As I came closer, the man’s face soured. He scowled out the window, leaning his elbow on the windowsill, darkness and oppression dripping from his glare, down the bricks of the building.
“Um, excuse me,” I began, stuttering as I always do when nervous. “Uh, can I talk to you for a minute?”
She glanced at me with question in her eyes, and her then her eyes darted up to the man. Her submission to his stare was unnerving. She didn’t speak English. I wanted to tell her so much. I wanted her to know about the Magdalen that my God loved so very much, whose great love was greater than any trouble she ever had. Greater than all the authorities and governments and Corrupt Ones with Power…
But the man upstairs yelled at us. Her painted eyebrows rose with a plea, and she spoke to me in a gravelly voice in another tongue, clearly trying to say there was nothing here for me.
If I gave her money, the man would take it from her. Did I have nothing for her?
I discovered that I did. With two steps closer, I was there at her side. I took her hand in mine, and for one glorious instant of Sisterly Solidarity which smashed all barriers of time and season and place, The Woman and I held hands, with a murmuring girl baby smiling between us. We stood together in Sisterly Solidarity, across the chasms of culture. We rebelled against circumstance with a moment of gentleness. No words needed.
If we could do that, then perhaps our daughters could do the same. Stop hiding. Stop the fear. Dismantle the anguish and pain of their worlds, and turn it into compassion and love, and something beautiful. We could do this.
So, that was it. Our moment.
I said goodbye to her in my language, she answered back in hers.
Before I walked away, I did one more thing.
I pressed into her hand all that I could give her, all the sweetness and joy that I held in my pocket: Chocolates.
A handful of chocolates.
“Peace,” I said, as I turned away, back to my own path, with my beloved daughter.