I have been thinking that it takes acute discernment to be alert to read the signs that life  gives  in obtuse clues and hints. Spiritual teachers come in many forms. I often think of Rumi and how his great teacher Shams arrived as a filthy beggar in the marketplace. He recognized his greatness instantly and left his privileged life, his position as a wealthy university professor, his marriage  and famiy, to follow his great teacher  and through that courageous event, we have the eternal poetry of Rumi.

In the past weeks I have had two interactions that have left me thinking about this: both came as a person asking me for help. Just in a moment when my thoughts and prayers were directed towards an invisible God, asking for help. I’ll begin with an event that happened last night as I was leaving the hospital.

Dear, sweet Angela is in hospital, taking care of her unborn baby. She has a high risk pregnancy that requires her to spend her last month in hospital. Since she and my son Dan never included babies in their 10 year relationship, she has no medical insurance, which means she is one of the few white faces lying with a swollen belly in a “state hospital”. I visited her there last night, some hours after my arrival back in South Africa. I was not sure what to expect – would the beds have sheets? Are the toilets clean? I have only ever been inside a “private hospital” in South Africa – symbol I guess, of my privileged relationship with this country of my birth. I was gently surprised to see her well and happy. She devoured the yogurt smoothie I brought, and heartily ate the organic food I tucked out of my basket. She praised the doctors and care and the sweetness of the other women she has met in her ward. Not a word of complaint, other than a comment on the in-edibility of the food and the fact that she is awakened at 4am to be asked if she slept a good night. The security guard kicked me and the handful of other visitors out at 8pm sharp, my car would be searched, Angela warned me, on my drive out to make sure I had not nicked a computer or two.

But the real event of the evening happened as I left the hospital building and unlocked my car sitting alone in a dark parking lot. I used my remote control from about 20 feet from the car and it set the lights on briefly as it is wont to do – this time, frightening an old man as he walked past the dark car with no driver in it, that suddenly flashed it’s lights at him. I saw him jump and left my prayers for Angela and the baby to laugh at him. “it’s not magic, it’s only me unlocking my car” I called out to him. We smiled at each other and I climbed into my car, returning to my prayers for help for Angie and her baby. Then I heard him banging on my car window and I did what I would not normally do, at night, in South Africa, in a dark parking lot, with a dark-skinned man at my car window.
I opened it.

I noticed he was of Indian descent, with a muslim hat on his head. “Please madam” he said in a voice, softened by chanting. “I have been here all day with my wife. Our daughter’s child is sick. We came from a long way away to be here. And the difficult thing is, we left in such a hurry we did not bring food with us and have not eaten all day. It’s hard for me to ask you, I am not a beggar, but do you have any kindness to give me to buy food with?” Of course I did. We exchanged blessings and greetings, from both Allah and God. “You are a Muslim” I said, “I am Jewish. This is where we nourish world peace, in our prayers for the health of the children.”  I  drove off feeling blessed by his presence and our exchange.  His dignity and courage to ask for help.  And yes, my car was well searched and found to be empty of stolen goods!

The second event I will tell you about tomorrow. It’s 3am my time and jet lag demands I leave the keyboard and return to my warm and comfy bed. Oh Angie darling, I hope you are tucked in on that lumpy pillow i noticed,  and that your sweet baby is not kicking you in the ribs as her father did to me…