I had been sitting at a small table in the back of McDonald’s for about twenty minutes when a large group of handicapped adults and three caretakers came into the restaurant. They sat at four tables not far from mine. I tried not to stare but I was fascinated with the caretakers as they efficiently attended to their clients. I have to admit that I never would have had that much patience.
I picked up my pen and looked back at my notebook just as I heard extremely loud, barking noises coming from one of the handicapped adults. I have to admit the sounds actually unnerved me at first. I looked up but I couldn’t see who was making the noises. A wall blocked my view of the whole group of handicapped adults. I looked away but could not stop hearing the loud guttural growling sounds. The thought went through my head that maybe I should leave, but I really didn’t want to. I was relaxed and happy and enjoying my morning.
The noise continued however, as a memory flooded into my brain. When Mom and I were traveling through the southern states several years ago, we stopped at a place in Cullman, Alabama, called the Ava Maria Grotto. Known as “Jerusalem in Miniature,” the grotto is a four-acre park that displays 125 miniature replicas of well-known historic landmarks, which were created by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk. Brother Joseph used many materials, from stones and concrete to clips and buttons, to create his designs.
Mom and I roamed through the grotto looking at the beautiful reproductions of cathedrals and basilicas. We ended our journey in the small gift shop. As we were looking around, Mom and I noticed a bus pulling up in the parking lot. The bus was decorated with the name of a local school for handicapped adults. Several of the people getting off the bus were adults who appeared to have some sort of medical condition. Some people were in wheelchairs; others were being guided by the attendants who led them into the shop. I was standing on the opposite side of the room. I was across from the front door, Mom, and the adults who just came into the shop. One of them was a middle-aged man. He was extremely tall, well over six feet, and very thin. He wore jeans, a red windbreaker, and a blue baseball cap. He lumbered towards Mom and loomed over her. My tiny mother only came up to the middle of his chest. She had to crank her head way back on her neck to look up at his face as he stood before her. Nervously, I started towards them and felt a slight panic as the man suddenly lifted his hands, gently laid them on Mom’s shoulders, and stared into her eyes. Then he gently said, “God bless you, my child.” He pulled his hands away then and lumbered off with the rest of his party. I finally made it over to Mom’s side, where she stood looking stunned. She didn’t move at all; she just stood staring straight ahead.
“Mom? Mom, are you okay?” I asked her as I touched her arms gently. She turned slowly to look at me.
“Did you see his eyes?” she asked me. “They were glowing. They were so golden.” Then she smiled a slow sweet smile. “I was just touched by an angel,” she whispered.
We didn’t talk at all as we walked outside, climbed into the truck, and drove away from the grotto. In fact, we didn’t talk for a while after that. Mom seemed lost in the experience for a while. I don’t really know what exactly happened, but Mom was quiet and peaceful as she leaned back in her seat, just watching the scenery roll by as we headed towards Mississippi.
Suddenly, the memory faded as I looked up. One of the patients in McDonalds walked over to the trashcan that was close to my table. Then he abruptly turned and was standing right next to me. He was about 5’6” tall and very thin. His straight black hair hung down over his plastic glasses. The thick glasses emphasized the way his eyes crossed uncontrollably. His hands flapped in an agitated gesture and his feet took turns tapping against the floor. Then suddenly he smiled a radiant smile that displayed crooked, broken teeth. “Hi,” he shouted to me.
“Hi,” I answered back and the most amazing sense of calm came over me as I talked him. “How are you today?” I asked him.
“Great,” he answered a little too enthusiastically as his hands continually clapped together. “How are you?” he asked.
“Great,” I told him.
He smiled again, “Okay…bye.”
“Bye,” I said and waved to him. As he waved back, I suddenly felt incredibly peaceful. Is this what Mom had felt at the grotto? However, I didn’t feel that I was touched by an angel. I felt instead touched by a human being. I felt touched by another person and that touch lead to a connection with God and the universe.
As the attendants began to lead the handicapped adults out of the restaurant, I started thinking about all the times I came home from school in tears. I remember my mom hugging me as I cried on her shoulder, “Mommy, what’s wrong with me?” She had no answer for me mainly because she didn’t believe anything was wrong. However, I had always felt different from other people. I have never seemed to fit in anywhere. Because of the bullying I had experienced, for most of my childhood, I thought it was wrong to be different. As a result, I found myself shying away from people who are considered different, unpredictable, or unstable. Now, I know better though. As I watched the attendants lead their clients out of the restaurant, I felt a sense of belonging I hadn’t ever known before. People are not angels. There are just people who can touch others in an angelic way and our differences are a reflection of the many facets of a loving God.