A few weeks ago I was in Europe. (That is so weird to write. Europe, people. I was there. Still can’t get over it!) Anyway…
I spent a bit of time (not long enough!) in France.
I learnt a little bit of French in high school and took some classes this year as well so I thought I was totally prepared. I thought wrong. It was an absolute blast though and I learnt so much!
The subway in Paris is all, well, sub! Usually down 2 flights of stairs. At some stations there are travellators. And most of them aren’t functioning. The first couple of times you get your hopes up, thrilled that ease is at hand . After a while you give up and know you’re headed for the stairs. And when you are sick and your asthma is playing up and you are lugging a suitcase – stairs are not fun. I spent a lot of my time in Paris wheezing while dragging myself up and down stairs! (But hey, it meant I didn’t get fat on all the delicious French food I ate, so stairs for the win!)
One such trip really gave me a lot to think about. Fortunately I had left my suitcase in the motel at this point so it was a lot easier to manage.
There were people everywhere. Most of them focused on where they were headed and not paying any attention to their surroundings. Honestly, if I hadn’t been sick and therefore much slower, I probably would have missed him too.
I noticed him about halfway up a flight of stairs when I paused just below him to take a breath. He was hobbling slowly up the stairs. I’m pretty sure he had a walking stick in one hand but I can’t quite remember now. In the other hand he carried a heavy bag of what looked like groceries. And he would have been at least 80 years old.
He stumbled up a step. As I darted to his side and reached toward him I completely forgot that I was in France and spoke quickly in English. ‘Do you need help?’ He glanced up. Clearly he didn’t understand a word. But he understood the gesture. He allowed me to take his groceries and he leant on my arm as we slowly climbed the stairs together.
As we reached the top I handed him back the grocery bag. He met my gaze for a fleeting moment. A glance I will remember forever. And there were tears in his frail voice as he whispered ‘Merci, madame.’
Thank you, ma’am.
I had done such a small thing. But to him it was great. And though I had been the one who had given to him, suddenly I felt like I had received the greater gift.
‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.‘