I notice people, and passionately collect their stories. My favourite stories include those small cracks that allow one to peek inside another soul, those moments when their voice is almost imperceptibly altered, the eyes light up for a reason I do not know, and their gestures are unexpected.
Scripture tells us about Jesus, but everything I know about Him is confirmed by encounters with people in which I see sparks of divinity.
I never understood what motivated them to always welcome us with joy. We were just a group a noisy children who disturbed the serious clients of the beautifully lit pastry shop, with a big window, full of goodies. School was only a couple of minutes from home, but we stopped there to ask for water, tired from all our playing. We rarely had the money to buy the goodies in the window so we pressed our faces to the window and admired the golden products, until the ladies who ran the shop would offer us a glass of water, free of charge. I remember that, in winter, we would leave trails of snow and mud behind us, which they would then have to clean up. I often go by the place where the pastry shop used to be. It has been long closed but the images and feelings are still alive in me.
If Jesus owned a pastry shop, I’m sure He would have welcomed noisy, disruptive children with the same joy. Adults did not understand why He welcomed them, as the disciples did not understand either.
He would stop every time he came home from work and talk to us. We stopped playing and gathered around him, listening to stories about the radio, phones, about those invisible things connecting the world, and that, to us, was fascinating. I don’t know how much we understood of it all. We were drawn by his passionate way of speaking and the importance he ascribed to us when he shared all that with us. He would linger for a couple of minutes, he would then go up and we would resume our play. I recently remembered him, when I talked to his wife, in front of the flat. Many years have gone by since the neighbour passed away, but she still speaks of him with eyes lit up. I believe that the women around Jesus experienced the same regret when He was crucified. He had given them time, made them feel important, and talked to them passionately about His Kingdom.
She was always there when you needed her, gentle and humble. Her bent gait and serene smile slowly fade away from my mind, but I still see her bent over a sack of carrots, peeling them carefully. She dropped by for a visit and stayed to help. She had an almost naïve goodness. She would always look for small ways to bring joy to others and never turned anyone down who needed her help. Although she had a hard life, with a mentally ill son and sleepless nights, she had such a serene gaze I rarely saw in others. Some said she was senile and perhaps she was, but any meeting with her would fill one with calmness and joy. In our library books, we still find small cards from her and we cannot bring ourselves to throw away the raggedy duck she brought us, whose colours have worn out. I believe Jesus had the same serene look and at least the same desire to do good.
He knew how to set boundaries and warn people of the consequences of their actions. I met him in high school and his manner intrigued me. Silent and meditative, with an unmistakable sense of humour, and firmness in complicated situations, he marked my adolescence with necessary seriousness. He would look inside himself, at his motivations and beliefs. He had a memorable way of saying things, and a couple of pieces of advice he gave us are still in the back of my mind. I can almost remember them word for word. I trusted that what he said he would do because he was determined to see things through, and because he never did otherwise than what he had promised. I sometimes thought of him as harsh, but the children he worked with looked up to him with admiration and respect. I believe they were also aware that the boundaries he set were for their own good, which he tenaciously and honestly pursued. I saw him fighting against injustice many times, being diplomatic when required, and brave when boundaries had been overlooked. It was only after I met him that I understood the moment when Jesus banished the merchants from the temple.
I knew she loved deeply and wanted to offer her help and wisdom from our first discussion. Words are too scarce for the admiration I have for my teacher. Her calculated mind is most probably full of children’s stories. She knows their problems, passions, and hopes. She fights for each and every one of them as if they were her only concern. She speaks gently and calmly, and if she is mad you know that she has good reason for it. She looks for ways to ease and embellish other people’s lives and her own needs always come second. She does not like to stand out. She does everything with tact and humility, but I’ve never met a child or adult who would interact with her and remain unimpressed. When the Bible calls Jesus a “teacher”, I think of her, and feel, like the disciples, privileged for having worked with her for three years.
She knows and loves me as I am and helps me grow. We have known each other for many years now, more than half of my life. Our friendship has endured even when we were separated by half a world, even after saying painful things to each other, even when our preoccupations were headed in different directions. We can talk for hours on end and not get bored. Our discussion space is a safe one for our deepest thoughts and fears. We make plans to travel the world, and inside ourselves. We say uncomfortable things to one another, and grow together. Her friendship has given me the opportunity to feel what the friendship Jesus offers me is like: full of joy, freedom, acceptance, patient, full of compassion when I err, and a space where I can accept criticism and grow.
These people are amazing evidence of the friendship Jesus gives me. There have been many others whose stories did not fit here, people who have enriched my life, and for whom I am deeply grateful.