Angels Unawares: Sally


By The Rev. David Hermanson

I was eighteen, and had been living on my own for two years. It was the tumultuous early ‘70’s, a time for me of long hair and radical politics. In Seattle radical politics meant Marxism in all its stripes, from the Socialist Workers Party to the George Jackson Brigade. Religion? Nonsense, opium for the people, or so I thought. My day job was as a laborer. During the evenings I worked the front desk at a local free clinic.

At the clinic, our clients were street people and the working poor. One Friday night a woman with two young children came into the clinic. Her gait was unsteady, her face bruised, and her voice very quiet as she told me how her children’s father had beaten her, again.

The medic on call cleaned up her bruises as I went to work finding her a place to stay. I made call after call. Social Services was closed. The local police precinct had no ideas. The local shelter had no room for children. It was Friday night and every office in the city was either closed or on skeleton staffing.

Long since done with the medic, the woman sat on an old couch next to my desk with her children in her lap. She was easily startled, jumping every time the phone rang or the front door opened. Her face was pale, making the growing bruises stand out all the more. Finally she and her two kids fell asleep, there on the couch.

When midnight came, my relief, Sally came on shift, and I explained the woman’s situation. She told me she had one call she could make, but it would have to wait till morning.

Sally called me a little after 8 the next morning, asking if I could come back to the clinic, and drive the woman and her children to a placement.

Two hours later I was parking the clinic van in front of a nondescript house. Sally helped the woman with her children, and I carried a bag of diapers and formula to the front door. A couple greeted us, quickly sweeping up the woman and her children with comforting gestures and quiet words.

Sally and I followed them into the house. Inside it was plain, maybe even a little shabby, but clean with a lived-in look. Sally asked me if I’d ever been to a Catholic Worker House before. My answer was a typical, cynical snort of “no.”

The man came back from the kitchen where the woman and her children had been taken. He thanked us for bringing them. I was a little surprised, and I guess it showed.

“Where’s the paper work?” I wanted to know -- but he looked confused at this question. “You know," I said, "for admission to the residence.”

Now he was even more confused. “There’s no paperwork, they’re our guests.”

“How long can they stay?” I asked.

“As long as they need.” said the man.

I looked at Sally with disbelief in my eyes, but she nodded in agreement with the man. She left us alone for a few minutes, and the man and I talked about the house, and the people who lived there and their guests. I asked the man, “Why do you people do this, open your house this way?”

He pointed to the wall, to a crucifix that hung there and said, “Because he taught us how to love.”

I was not a convert, not then. But as the years passed, and dreams of revolution faded, I discovered the Church. Through this journey, that couple in Seattle has stayed with me. I can still see their faces as they welcomed a bruised woman and her children. I’m a priest now, and my life is filled with crosses and crucifixes, but I when I close my eyes, I still see the crucifix on their wall.

David Hermanson
Saint Thomas’ Church, Lyndhurst, NJ

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