Today her face haunts my memories. Her face was peculiar, holding in tension age and innocence, experience and a mental disability that limited her experience. The desert sun had weathered her face to an appearance of elderliness even though she was probably much younger than my mother. Being set by family outside in a wheelchair to beg had weathered more than her skin. She now lived on the streets, meeting up with an unlikely family of street children and their mothers.
Every year it seemed an epidemic of eye infections hit the city. Local friends explained that it was the desert wind. I had to wonder whether it hadn’t reached epidemic proportions due to the tendency to wipe one’s eyes with the same cloth that had just wiped another set of pussy, infected eyes. At any rate, local hawkers sold massive numbers of sunglasses, I washed my eyes out with salt multiple times a day (I’m still convinced that’s what protected me) and friends without enough disposable income to purchase antibiotic eye drops came knocking. The eye medicine was inexpensive and I longed to do my part to help protect my city from any more oozing eyes than it already boasted.
One day at the height of eye infection week, I walked to the school where I trained local teachers. She waved me over to the shade next to the locked cage holding propane gas tanks for sale where she was seated in her wheelchair. Her eyes were obviously the next casualty of the desert wind-eye disease. Her disabilities rendered her speech a challenge to understand but I got the gist of it: she needed eye medicine. And I had what it took to get her some: a little money and an easy trip to the pharmacy on two healthy feet. Yes, I affirmed, next time I came to school, I would come bearing medicine.
I did. Knowing me, I probably bummed some off of a Western doctor friend for free (I don’t quite remember) but I got what she needed and remembered to bring it. In my second language I explained to her how often and how long to medicate her eyes. Did she understand? Yes, yes. But. But? Her hands rested on her knees, below them withered feet dangled on her wheelchair footrests. There was something more she wanted to say. She looked me full in the face and said, “But what about my legs?”
What about her legs? Those legs that hadn’t walked for years? Those legs that very well may have come into the world twisted and unusable? What about those legs? I have actually laughed uproariously when I’ve thought about this question. It was so stunning to me, I just stammered. I have no idea what I told her but I do know that I wished Jesus himself were walking around the Horn of Africa rather than me, a pitiful emissary. Because he could have (dare I say would have?) answered that question with a touch and a command and she would have walked. I retreated to the school’s office.
Even if it weren’t Jesus but Peter, I can hear him. “I don’t have silver or gold but what I do have I give to you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” But it wasn’t Jesus or Peter, it was Elizabeth. I didn’t have silver or gold but US dollars and local francs and enough to provide eye drops. While I long to believe the words of Jesus that the one who believes in him will do greater works than he did, I just don’t see it in myself. Which is both a terror and a relief to admit. I don’t see it because she got some Western medicine that helped but no word of power that healed. What if she could have walked? What if God was prepared to heal her, had I asked? How did Peter do that? What I do have, I give to you.
I guess I did that too. I just wish that what I had were different.
At the end of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says to those he is teaching to pray, a group I consider myself a part of, “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” I ask, I plead on my knees. I don’t want to have only US dollars and local currencies to give. I want to give like Peter did, not so I can be accomplished or noticed or special but so that chains of brokenness fall away and captives walk free. So that men and women born lame walk. So that hungry people eat and hurting people are healed and weary people rest.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.