There was the public lot that she had to park at every day and there was the office building where she worked. Both stood on a road marred by construction cones and metal street plates that covered gaping holes in the earth; a short term street repaving project prolonged by bad weather and unexpected sink holes.
The sidewalk on the far side of the street from her building ran the length of an empty lot and was blocked off with yellow tape from crosswalk to crosswalk. Something inside her wanted to – wished desperately to - make the monumental effort to go around side streets and enter the back side of her building to take the utility stairs.
But, it would add to her foot commute a minimum of ten minutes and she was typically running fifteen minutes behind. A wee part of her felt she had it coming anyway. Maybe if she did it enough eventually she would find some sort of release.
There they were; she stopped and stole a deep breath. She could do this again. She had to. She’d lost her last job because of cutbacks and the unemployment office didn’t accept her reasons for wanting to leave this one.
She could remember her words now, “I didn’t know the clinic was in that building when I took the job.”
“Miss Stevens, it’s a legitimate, authorized business run in accordance with state law. Your personal beliefs don’t factor in here.”
Personal beliefs? She didn’t know about that, but did feeling like she was going to throw up every time she went to work fit into the category of “beliefs?”
She walked on and tried to keep her eyes focused on the curb. Other days she’d pretended to be on a cell phone conversation, laughing at a joke the caller made. No matter what her tactics she never got passed them without seeing at least one, if not more. And, try as she might to turn up her IPod she could always hear the chant - over and over - crushing new places in her. They were angry and she felt the heat of it burning her one cell at a time.
Since they started it she found it harder to concentrate at work, harder to finish her assignments. Her supervisor had called her on a couple of occasions, at first asking kindly questions about the change in her performance and then getting more pointed, “It’s got to change Emma – or else.”
The “or else” pushed her forward, past the throng. It was a bigger group than normal today. More signs, more graphics, louder chanting. And, finally she was past them. Her stolen breath escaped through her lips and tried to blow away the bad air - the sad air.
A few more steps to go and she would conquer the gauntlet for one more day. In all of her hurry she nearly tripped over the small woman sitting on the planter box just before the sidewalk turned to her office building. The woman wasn’t part of the group. Emma knew this because she was separated from them by a few feet and because her eyes held a different light; there was no anger there.
Emma apologized for accidently kicking the woman’s shins as she lurched over her foot. “I’m sorry, Ma’am. I didn’t see you there. Are you okay?”
There was a pause. Not a long one, but still a pause. Then the woman slowly stood, reaching out a hand to Emma to steady herself as she rose. When she was standing, her hand remained on Emma’s coat sleeve and she looked into her eyes,
“Don’t listen to the voices honey. He sees and He knows. He weeps with you.”
Emma shook her head slightly, her unspoken gesture refusing the woman’s words. Still, the woman was kind and there was no sense being mean. Emma smiled slightly and moved on into the building, another day ahead of her and she was almost late. But, throughout the day the woman’s words would come back in whispers at unexpected moments. What did she mean?
The next day it was the same routine…
…and the next after that.
On and on until she was sure she was caught in some kind of replay of the same horrific day like that movie she saw years ago. She never tripped over the woman again but she was there, saying nearly the same thing – every day. And, Emma would wonder, “Who? Who weeps with me? And – why?” But, she didn’t want to ask, wasn’t sure if she wanted to know.
Emma didn’t like it but she began to look forward to the woman being there. It was imperceptible at first, but her days started feeling lighter in tiny increments and the knot in her neck didn’t feel quite so tight. Instead of focusing on the curb when she passed the throng with signs, her eyes would look past them and see the woman waiting to greet her with the strange phrase. Her mind seemed clearer at work. Her supervisor didn’t praise her for the change but he stopped scowling so much and she hadn’t been called into his office for a number of days.
After the woman had said her peace again one stormy Thursday she pressed a card into Emma’s hand, enveloping Emma’s fingers with her own warm, worn out ones. She smiled into Emma’s eyes with deep sadness and deep joy at the same time. The card was blank except a handwritten note: John 11:35. Emma knew enough from Sunday school when she was a child going to church with her Aunt to recognize it as a Bible verse. She shrugged and tucked the card into her purse and went to work as usual, forgetting the card.
The woman wasn’t there the next day or the next after that. She didn’t want to admit it but she missed seeing her. After several days Emma summoned up the courage to ask the throng where the woman was.
“The old woman who talks to me every day,” turning, searching their faces for recognition Emma saw them all close up, face to face, for the first time.
“You know her. She sits over there,” Emma pointed to the planter box. “She’s here every time you guys are.” Various eyes stare back at her, not all of them hostile. Some seem a little – sorry, a little uncertain of their mission. Maybe not sure if the ends justified the means.
“Honey, I don’t know who you’re talking about. We don’t have anyone with us like that and I don’t recall seeing her either.” The man spoke for them all and at that they all turned back to their task at hand and Emma walked to her car, distracted and confused.
After she put Melissa to sleep that night she remembered the card. She caressed her fingers over the edges and the hand written verse wondering again what happened to the woman and her strange repetitive words. She remembered an old Bible that she’d found in her Aunt’s things when she received the small box from the nursing home after she died. Where was it?
She searched through closets, the basement, and the attic but finally found it behind some boxes in the laundry room. She unburied the Bible from the box and took it in hand, along with the card and went to sit in her favorite chair.
Fatigue settled into her as she sank into the old wingback chair; a gift from her Daddy so long ago. She read the card once again, pondering its meaning as she opened the old Bible and thumbed through it, looking for John. And there it was:
John 11:35…..Jesus wept.
Just those two words….
It felt like a tiny little rip at first, the smallest fissure, but the pressure had been building for so long. The small crack turned to a large hole and then, in an instant burst open wide,
The woman’s voice came back to her now, “Don’t listen to the voices, honey. He sees and He knows. He weeps with you.”
Jesus didn’t hold angry signs or yell hurtful, shaming words. He mourned over the loss, the pain and the shame. He wept - and so did Emma. Emma surrendered and they wept together over it all; the wide wingback of the chair felt like His arms wrapped around a grieving child.
From that day on Emma took up her own vigil. She stood in front of the building when she could and did just as the mysterious woman had done; silent and compassionate vigil, letting Jesus bring the ones who needed to hear. And, when He did, she spoke words that drew them to His warm embrace.