I rounded the corner and sure enough a yellow envelope, a bright reminder of my personal, if even innocent, failure, was slipped underneath the windshield wipers. I knew it would be there; I hadn’t put in enough coins. Although, I had anticipated the parking ticket, I was still upset. Who enjoys seeing forty dollars disappear for being fifteen minutes late? No one.
But I was quiet and calm as I loosed the flimsy reprimand from the front of my car. An hour earlier, I had seen the face of God, and my spirit was still warm from the embers of the Holy.
“Honey, do you smoke cigarettes?” A voice called to me as I neared the parking meter.
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t,” I replied with feeling in my tone which surprised me. I guess I sensed the longing for comfort in her voice, the wish for a nicotine stick to soothe her mind or maybe free her from the trouble of the day. I know that feeling, that longing; I have my own vices.
“Oh that’s okay, honey,” the woman in the orange sweater shrugged. “Will you buy me some breakfast?”
“I’m sorry, no, I can’t do that. I have a little bit of change here, but that’s all I am able to give you.” I held out some quarters, feeling a little bit silly.
My family was down the street at a café, waiting to surprise my brother for his birthday. My wallet only boasted pennies, and I knew that I needed to add more time to the parking meter. I had asked my mom for some change to add to my time, and she had handed over her wallet as I handed over her grandson.
“Well, I don’t know what I can buy with that…” her voice trailed off as she asked the honest question, looking at the quarters.
“I wish I could give you more. This isn’t even my wallet though. It’s my mom’s. I’m just borrowing some change to add to the parking meter.” I don’t know why I tried to explain the situation to her, but I did.
The impoverished woman in orange was standing in close proximity to me now. Her forehead was lined and in the creases there was dirt. I guessed she was in her forties or fifties, but I’m a horrible judge when it comes to age.
“Honey, are you a Catholic?” Her eyes went from the crucifix around my neck to my face. She was smiling, her brown eyes dancing.
“Yes, I am,” I responded, and I felt joy flood over my face as her arms reached toward me. She embraced me and kissed my neck and proceeded to tell me that she was also a Catholic and loved her faith. We traded words like gifts.
Her patron saint, she told me, was Saint Veronica, and as she learned that mine was Saint Catherine of Siena and my mom’s was Saint Francis of Assisi, she threw her arms around me once again and kissed me a second time. It was during this second embrace that it felt as if there were more people gathered on the sidewalk than just the two of us.
This corner in downtown Portland felt like holy ground. It felt like angels and saints paused to embrace one another too, and God himself covered the pavement with love.
When we parted ways, I found myself mulling over our exchange, grateful for it, but not quite sure what to make of it. What did it mean to me? What might it have meant to her? What did God mean for those moments to impart to me?
It wasn’t until after the family gathering, after the yellow announcement of guilt on my windshield, after the drive home that I realized I knew nothing about St. Veronica. I had sought the intercession of her prayers for the woman in orange, but I didn’t know who she was. Of course now I needed to find out.
According to this post, St. Veronica, not to be confused with St. Veronica Giuliani, is more legend than fact. She is said to have been a follower of Jesus, and present at his crucifixion. While Jesus carried the cross, it has been said that she used a cloth to wipe his face clean; this story is recorded in the sixth station of the cross. It was a simple act, driven from an outpouring of grief and compassion, but it has had great impact on the Christian faith, seeing as this story has been passed down through many, many generations.
I paused during my reading. I knew that encounter was not for nothing, but the importance of those words, of those hugs and kisses washed over me in layers. Oh, now I see.
St. Veronica, pray for me. And please Lord, hear my prayer.
That I would be aware of the feelings and needs of others around me.
That I would have compassion before I would pass judgment.
That I would freely offer my arms to embrace and my hands to help.
That I would see the face of God in everyone, especially those I do not find lovely.
That I would remember the heart of God knows no order of worth, but instead finds the world worth loving with extravagance.