For reasons I cannot grasp, a memory came to me when I was pondering what to write for this blog post.
This memory was from quite some time ago—before my children were born, when I was still a newlywed living in a large metropolitan area. At that time, I took the train/subway to get to work. It was not the most delightful transit; often the train was full to standing room only, and, like many cities, even though the faces were familiar, and even friendly, we did not know each other’s names, or anything personal about one another. Yet there we were—five days a week, spending up to an hour in transit together.
Sharing my station were a handful of other women. Most were like me, recent university graduates, commuting downtown for entry level jobs. I say this because we brought bagged lunches. One woman was different. She was older than me and was visibly, mildly intellectually disabled. Unlike the rest of us, she sometimes chatted out loud, to no one in particular. Small talk, relaying that she still lived with her parents, but that with her “ability” she had “an important job.” And yet, when one replied to her, she reminded us that she wasn’t “to speak to strangers.”
I liked her. I think all of us at “our” station liked her. She, through her being, was our talisman- her presence created unexplainable, magical influence on our extended human feelings and actions. We each looked out for her, holding the train door, offering our arms as support as she stepped across the gap, making sure she had a place to stand on the train, where she could look out the window (her preference) and so on. These were tiny actions. And yet they connected us, and caused us to smile, if briefly, on the commute where we tried our best to keep to ourselves, like proper city dwellers.
One time, on the way home, an electrical storm began to bellow in full gale. The rain poured in a burst that soaked, rather than cleansed the city, prematurely beckoning the darkness of the witching hour.
Though the stations were all under cover, as passengers stepped on and off, the smell of re-dampened fabric softener molecules lifted the musky smell of mud-covered tracks. We seemed to keep our heads down even more, monitoring possible slippage as the storm’s saliva drooled on the carriage floor.
As the train pushed through the squall, a sharp explosion of lightning struck! Perhaps it even hit the train, I don’t know. All I know is that the lights within the carriages went out, and I stood in damp darkness with my familiar strangers. The train yet chugged forward with intensified labour, pressing through the liquid profusion.
As the thunder drummed back seconds later, I felt a startle beside me, and someone grabbed my hand. Without thinking, I cradled the hand back. It was the right thing to do at that moment.
Within three deep breaths, the internal carriage lights began to blink back on. It was then that I saw that the one holding my hand was our station Talisman. “I like rain, but not like this,” she said, not making eye contact.
I smiled and nodded, “Me, too.” I said.
“This is scary,” she said. “But not like roller coaster scary, but sort of. Like a roller coaster but standing up and not on loops.”
“Yes,” I said. Then recalling folklore I heard as a child, “I heard that the thunder comes after the lightening to remind us that everything is okay.”
“I never heard that before.” She sounded incredulous, and I felt silly for mentioning the thunder. I quickly decided to not mention how thunder was “God rearranging the furniture in heaven.” I inwardly rolled my eyes just recalling that ridiculous adage.
Luckily, the torrent was short lived. Within a few minutes, the rain calmed to a steady, persistent drizzle. And yet, our hands were still holding tight.
I liked it.
For the first time since I had been on that commute, the other women by me were openly smiling. They had noticed that we were holding hands, and they knew –they knew- in that moment, that our Talisman was keeping me as much as I was keeping her. We chatted, openly, yet briefly, about the rain. Women soothing each other with words.
As the rain perpetuated, the train stopped and started at several stations, breathing passengers in and out with ease. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, we were at our stop. As always, we had three minutes to alight before the train would pulse on.
Just as the doors opened, the talisman released her grip. “Are you okay?” I queried, well within earshot of the group. “Would you like me to walk with you to your home.”
“Oh, no,” she said, firmly. “I don’t talk to strangers.” And off we went our separate ways, if only for a day.
To this day, I am quite sure that she did not know that she was holding my hand. But I know. And I keep this in mind, whenever things are scary for me. It reminds me that God is with me, holding my hand.
Even when I don’t realise it.
Even when I am in a faith crisis.
God is holding your hand, too.