I leave for my jog on a clear April morning with the usual thought: Please don’t let her be outside. It isn’t exactly a prayer, because it’s entirely selfish—so call it an appeal to luck. I just don’t want to have to stop and talk to Sharon.
Sharon lives three houses down, in a dingy white house with blue shutters. There’s something wrong with her—I don’t know what it is, exactly, but whatever it is makes me want to avoid her whenever possible. I heard this in church once: you may be the only Jesus some people will ever meet. Sharon is the person that it is hardest for me to be Jesus for.
She’s largely unwashed—her black hair hangs greasily to her shoulders, framing a pasty and blotched face. Some unfortunate hormonal imbalance has peppered her chin with a smattering of dark whiskers. Every time I’ve seen her, she’s worn the same stretch pants, probably once a garish shade of orange but now both faded and stained, a color without a name. They strain over her lumpy stomach and thighs, topped by a graying tee-shirt that may once have been white.
I know what you’re thinking—I hate that I’m so superficial. I think I could handle the grime and the smell, I really do, but Sharon’s impossible to talk to. I can’t understand her; she mutters, and a speech impediment thickens her consonants, and she simply…won’t…stop…babbling. Once cornered by Sharon, I can’t resume my jog for ten minutes or more, until I finally pull away with a forced smile--“Gotta go, Sharon! See you later!”
How does she even know my name? I’ve never been able to figure it out, but it wasn’t long after we moved to this neighborhood that she flagged me for the first time. I’ve spent every morning since then planning my jog times for the least likelihood of a Sharon encounter—and hating myself for being such a lousy Christian.
So here I am—barely thirty strides from home—when I notice an untied shoelace. I stop to remedy the situation, and in the early morning stillness I realize two things: I am in front of Sharon’s house, and someone is crying inside. Oh, no. Oh, no. I have to go in there, don’t I, Lord? I look around for backup—a wandering social worker, perhaps. None appears. Here I go, Lord. You with me?
I tap lightly on the door; Sharon calls out, an unrecognizable syllable that clearly means help. The door swings open, and there she is, on the floor in her stretch pants and tee-shirt, her leg splayed at an alarming angle. My cell phone is in my pocket—I call 911 and then sit on the floor next to Sharon, who is now whimpering pitifully. I’m no medical professional, but her injury looks survivable. I take her hand and say shhhhhh, now and peek around her small living room while we wait for the ambulance.
It’s neater than I’d imagined it, yet sparsely furnished. Plain white walls, unadorned—and then my eyes fall on a Christmas card, taped above the shabby sofa. I sent that card…
…Tom and I had only just moved in, the first weekend of December, and the president of the Neighborhood Association had stopped by with gingerbread cookies, the Homeowners’ Guidelines, and a list of names and addresses. In our eagerness to demonstrate our Christian Hospitality, we’d sent Christmas cards to everyone on the list: Tom’s own design, with the message …and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, signed Love, Tom and Jill Zimmerman…
…And now the card accuses me—but Sharon follows my gaze and smiles a watery smile. “I save dat card, Jill,” she says. “It so pretty. No one never send me no card before. But what dat means, Word became flesh?” She shifts on the floor, grips my hand tighter, and winces.
My breath catches somewhere between my heart and my throat. I can hear a siren coming nearer, nearer, nearer. “Let’s get you to the hospital,” I say. “I’ll come in a few minutes, okay?”
The paramedics help Sharon onto a gurney, and I’m left standing on her faded rag rug. I gently pull the Christmas card from her wall and tuck it into my pocket. The card pokes my leg at every step as I walk home, planning a way to be Jesus for Sharon.
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