On Sundays I arrive early at the Cathedral. It sit on a bench under a tree in the Cathedral grounds and enjoy peaceful alone-time until it’s time for my rehearsal.
Today, however, when I arrived at my bench, there was a homeless woman bumper hunting (for those of you who don’t deal with the slightly nastier side of life as daily fare, bumper hunting is when you collect cigarette butts from the ground. You can re-light them and smoke the remaining tobacco). She was filthy, with matted hair and clothing so foetid that it was almost indistinguishable from her grime-ingrained skin. There was blood on one cheek, several teeth were missing, and even from a distance of several feet the smell of human filth was overpowering. But she was bumper hunting near my bench, and wonderful people have taught me over the years that good manners cost nothing. So we got chatting.
It took me a while to convince her that I wasn’t royalty (some internal logic that made sense, presumably, to her ravaged mind) and she wouldn’t tell me her name. But we chatted about the beauty of the day and the colour of my painted fingernails until she wandered into the foyer of the Cathedral for a cup of coffee. Where, I was pleased to note, that the well-dressed, very proper lady on coffee and tea duty looked her in the eye as she handed her coffee and three sugary biscuits. Then she wandered off into the cold morning, with a cheery farewell to me as I moved through the Cathedral grounds to my rehearsal.
That might very well have been the only human contact that a half-crazed, half-starved, always-overlooked homeless woman got today. A human soul, a manifestation of the Divine, hidden beneath filth and mental illness and neurological damage – but she was still gracious enough to give me, a stranger, a potential threat, the time of day, to call me darling. She even offered me one of her bumpers. In her own way, she was God to me in that moment. Perhaps I was God to her in that moment.
Which is why I was so pissed off when one of the pillars of the Cathedral reprimanded me for putting myself in danger talking to weirdos.