Face to Face with the Image of God

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Everyday, Hanna needed to go out into the world and encounter some people… any random people. It did not much matter who. The possibility for interactions, for dialogues, for giving joy, or praise, or even advice… well, if there was such a thing as a pregnant pause, then surely there could be expectant possibilities. These were all that is needed… that, and a little bit of boldness.

Hanna had reached an age when she could get away with things–things she could not do as a younger woman. In her 60s, she could directly, abruptly, amusingly speak to a random couple on the street, at the market, or leaving a movie theater. In her 30s, 40s, maybe even 50s there was this… what shall we call it… some psycho-socio-sexual something-or-other that would prevent her from doing exactly the same thing. Freedom. She had freedom to act freely. On the other hand, she was able to imagine that there might be an upper limit to this privilege. As a 90-year-old, she might elicit a dismissive reaction: “Oh gosh, here comes that old nut! Let’s get away. She tells the same old story every time we meet her!”

But if that were the case–if she’d become dotty–then she probably wouldn’t mind or even notice. She’d chirp, “Every day, I meet the nicest people,” …over, and over again.

Find more people to smile and laugh with. That was Hanna’s goal. This is what fed her, gave her hope and strength and kept her resilient and happy. She had finally learned to take care of herself, and how to properly do so. She was no longer fitting herself into the busy schedules of everyone around her. It was okay to not get her “to do” list done. Okay, to go lie down and rest; okay, to nap today–and yesterday. The possibility of gleaning some joy, an insight, yet remained.

Tonight, Hanna might dream; she might recall the dream; and perhaps that dream will help her resolve some anxiety, some unfinished worry… but tomorrow, in the bright new day, she will engage life again, and find more random people to meet face to face. If we are made in God’s image and God’s presence is manifest in the face of the other, she cannot be too selective. That presence must be in an anxious face just as much as in laughing eyes.

Last week, she noticed how big her grandson’s feet had become. “Wow, looks like my shoes might fit you!” she declared. So he tried them on. “I feel like I am wearing Omi’s shoes,” he said, bemused. Hanna wasn’t sure if that was a good, or bad, or neutral statement from an 11-year old. Maybe a bit of each.

Then she remembered the day before her wedding, feeling that she was walking her mother’s shoes. As she crossed a parking lot she heard the clop clop of her mother’s high heel shoes. She felt that she was inhabiting her mother’s actual shape. So she said out loud, but quietly: “Hello Mother. Thanks for being here with me today. I wished you could be here… and so you are.” She did not often think of her mother, nor wish her presence, but as she grew older into the freedom to act free stage of life, her mother came to mind more often. In fact, since she reached 63, the age of her mother’s death, she often thought things like: “She would have been interested in this or that development,” or “Who would Mother have voted for in this election?” or “Would she have mellowed and been easier to be with at this age?” and, perhaps, most wistfully: “I wish you were around, Mother; I’d like to talk to you about something.”

Hanna’s mother was a bold woman. Bright, brave, witty, beautiful, but something was not right. Too many quarrels, too many directions, too many husbands, too much alcohol. Not a happy person. It took Hanna many years to appreciate her mother, to understand her, to admire her, and to feel compassion for her. A wonderfully stranger idea came to her. “Wow, the person I have become could easily have been a good friend to her, encouraged her. I could have made her laugh.”

And with that, to herself, Hanna laughed.