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Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
It was an overcast morning in late autumn. Barely a month had passed from the passing of my wife and mother of our two boys. I was in mourning, trying to cope with the inhuman trial that life imposes on us all, and sadly more than once.
I kept myself outdoors as much as I could, walking the streets of London, the very same streets that she and I had been walking during weekends under the pretext of exercise, but in reality to explore and enjoy the city. The metropolis offers itself for walking tours with its wide, unobstructed pavements (quite unlike Athens), its neat network of streets, the diversity of its architectural styles, the cosmopolitan atmosphere that makes London so singular, the rows of trees that add character and perspective to its avenues, and most important of all, the smiles and the kindness of strangers.
My wife was French and I am Greek. We met in our late teens in the North East of England, as students, and moved down to London when our studies ended. She had graduated in Astrophysics and I in Marine Engineering. In London she found a job as a maths teacher at a school not far from home. It all seemed so ideal!
We got ourselves a mortgage, bought an apartment and four years later, started our family in an area where the dome of a Greek cathedral reminded me of home. We lived within walking distance from Kensington Gardens where we spent endless hours lying on its lawns and pushing our toddlers’ pram on its lanes, cautious not to frighten its bushy-tailed residents.
Thanks to our boys we became regulars to its playgrounds and ice cream stands. Hyde Park was a dual gift of leisure and refuge; its greenery diluted our cares and worries and filled us with optimism and plans for tomorrow.
Things took a rapid turn to the worse when my wife was diagnosed with linitis plastica, an incurable stomach cancer, in late November 2006. The doctors advised chemotherapy, all four cycles, but to no avail. She fought the dreaded disease with amazing courage, caring for her family to the very end. Words fail to describe the emotional stress and despair we all went though for the next 22 months. On the Autumn Equinox of 2008, she passed away peacefully, with her loved ones by her side.
Strange as it may sound, I felt the city of our former happiness somehow solicitous to my grief. Memories kept coming to me at every street corner, to remind me of her. The capital remained firm, not out of indifference but out of support. The air itself kept bringing back some of the exhilarating moods we used to feel when we were about to go footloose.
I was walking along a street in Bloomsbury, Central London, that morning, thinking of how much my life had changed, when I caught sight of a young man with short blond hair, walking briskly towards me.
As we crossed each other on the pavement, I heard him say to me: “Jesus loves you!” with a smile and walked on. I was taken aback. In the split second it took me to realise what had just happened, the kind stranger was out of sight. I felt very moved by that instant encounter, and took it as a sign that Someone is watching over me through the eyes of a faithful servant.
Later that day I sat at my desk and wrote down my experience in the form of a poem. I called it “Bloomsbury 2008”.
“Jesus loves you!”
said the stranger with a smile
as he rushed past my grief
I was bereft.
I had no time to thank
your blonde apostle
Lord. Please thank him!
Every time I read these lines, I’m overtaken with gratitude for that empathetic young man who read my grief so swiftly and responded equally swiftly with the nicest possible words:
Jesus loves you!
Athens, Greece - firstname.lastname@example.org
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