Today, in an effort to cross more items off our bucket list, Lise took me to The Book Table, a very cool indie bookstore on Lake Street in Chicago. We left the shop with our treasures, intending to amble back to the car, taking the long way to where her vehicle was parked, at the Oak Park train station. (I suggest always taking the long way home; so much more interesting.)
Too late we saw the huge man, talking to himself and punctuating his incoherencies with his index finger, heading in our direction. He had us in his sights, and we were not going to get away easily. He stopped me, of course (I attract all manner of street people and strays; always have), and he asked me some rhetorical question, I’ve no idea what. Undaunted, he turned on his left foot, military style, and began to walk with us. I couldn’t hear Lise sigh, but I knew she wanted to — as did I.
He began some story peppered with the phrase, “She dint cut no corners, no sirreee! She said it like it was. No cuttin’ corners!” Speaking of corners, we came to one, Marion Street and Lake, and turned left toward the station. We hoped his patch might consist of Lake Street only, but no such luck; he continued walking with us. I decided maybe I shouldn’t “cut corners either,” and decided to “tell it like it was.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but I have cancer, and my friend Lise and I are sharing one of our last days together before I move—”
“Cancer? My wife died of cancer.” The big man was all concern and attention now, and completely serious. “Do you believe in God?” I nodded. “Yes, I most certainly do.”
“Then give me your hand,” he said. I did.
And there, in the middle of Marion Street, with the breeze blowing, and horns hooting, and people passing, he closed his eyes and blessed me. “Lord, heal this woman. Take the cancer from her. She believes in You, and I believe in You, and I know you will take this from her. Thank you, Lord.” He opened his eyes and looked into mine, which were streaming with tears. “God will heal you, young lady,” he added, quietly.
“Oh, thank you—” I began. “Don’t thank me, thank God,” he said. “What is your name, at least?” I asked. “Ray. Ray Manse.” He showed us, because he was afraid we wouldn’t believe him, both his marriage certificate and the death certificate, dated 2006, with those cold, impartial words, “Cause of death: Metastatic breast cancer.” Both documents were creased and worn from frequent contact with those big, loving hands. “You were meant to meet me today,” he said, as he turned toward Lake Street.
Lise and I looked at each other. “Yes, we were,” we chorused. “God bless you!” we called after him.
“Don’t thank me, Praise the Lord!” he said, and walked, his head held high, left arm raised in a wave to us, down the windswept street.
Now, you know I believe in miracles. Do you? I have felt the pain and the love from all of you over the last few days. With all that love, and this man’s blessing, how can I not recover?
And here’s another little story, one that until today I had forgotten. I was living in Drogheda at the time, where I’d bought a little house. My son, living in California, had been through a very bad patch, and I’d been very down, very depressed. I was so far away from him, and felt so helpless. For three days I hadn’t left my house, but on this particular day, I decided to walk “down the Town,” as we say there, over the bridge, and onto the Main Street.
Completely absorbed in my thoughts, I started when I felt the touch of a hand on my left shoulder. Facing me was a tiny woman, one of the travelling people, if her clothes and demeanor were anything to go by. She started speaking, right there, with the horns hooting, and the breeze blowing, and the people passing. She said, closing her eyes, “There is trouble in your life…it’s a man, a young man. He is far away.” She opened her eyes to see me standing there, mouth agape, tears streaming down my face. “How on earth did you know?” I said, stunned. “He will be okay. He doesn’t want you to worry.” She patted my shoulder.
She started speaking again: “Twice—no—three times you will travel across the water, but you will stay the third time.” (I thought, “No! I want to stay in Ireland!”) She closed her eyes again, her hand still on my shoulder, but now holding my left hand as well. “You will live until you are 94 years of age—no, wait—96 years of age.” She looked into my eyes. “You will have many disappointments in love, but you will die happy. There is someone out there for you, but he is across the water.”
I apologized that I had no money to give her, but she waved me away. “I had to stop,” she said, simply. “Sometimes, I just have to stop and tell someone what I know.” And she and her red-haired son shuffled back across the road they’d crossed just to get to me.
How thankful I am that these people took the time to tell me what they know. That’s why I took the time tonight, after a long day, to tell you, too.