Saturday, November 29, 2008


I had the wildest, whirlwind conversation I’ve ever had with a stranger (when I wasn’t working), at the downtown Berkeley BART yesterday.

I was on my monthly Kaiser Oakland run, for interferon and a blood test. Refusing to “shop” on Black Friday, I still had Christmas music in my MP3 player. And I felt oddly rested. (The only thing I’d done differently was drink wine with dinner—which I’m not supposed to do.)

So I was out of the house, at least, and in a pretty decent mood. Nothing really over-the-top glorious, though. I got a new BART pass, and went down to the platform. The readerboard said the next train was in six minutes. I sat down to wait.

I hadn’t been there more than ten seconds, when a man walked by, looked in my face, and said hi. Mind you, I was still listening to a choral group sing a bluegrass gospel Christmas song. I said hi back. He kept talking. I took my earbuds out.

He sat at the other end of the bench from me, and told me about being laid off from his truck-driving job three weeks ago. He’d hated the job anyway, and was fine about being laid off; he doesn’t have to “drive past other people’s lives” anymore. He felt like he was getting back into real life, now.

He never asked me for anything but connection. He wasn’t looking for anything but company. He was the happiest out-of-work person I’d ever seen.

He asked what I do.

“I’m a grad student, and a cancer survivor. I’m still on chemotherapy.”
“Oh. Congratulations. That’s a lot. What are you majoring in?”
“God. I’m up at the GTU.”

And, we were off. He told me about losing faith in God, in the late 90’s. Things got “really weird,” and he was seeing chakras, having "Buddha-Mara" experiences. He ran into “this Episcopal priest” who nudged him back toward Christianity. (I resisted the urge to ask who.) Turned out to be Matthew Fox. Then he looked Fox up online, and found something about him not forgiving the pope who silenced him. Enough of that—you can’t preach forgiveness if you don’t do it.

The train came, and we got on. He asked if I’d had spiritual experiences. Well, I haven’t seen chakras, but… I told him about the man who gave me communion at Open Cathedral. It wasn’t a vision, but a human interaction.

He got it. He stared at me for a second, and he looked at me more closely.

“You’ve been through a lot, and still… I can see from your countenance, you’re blessed.”
“Oh, I know I am.”

We pulled up at the Ashby station, and he got off.

And I’m thinking:

Oh, wow.
WHAT was that?
Just enjoy it,

all at once.

Margaret, I thought about you—and I’d have called you right there from the train, if I’d had your number in my phone. (I do now.) But I don’t think I could have spoken coherently. I’m not terribly sure I can now.

He had to work to look at me; I was wearing a sun hat. Which he said had a lot of character (thank you, MaryEllen). I was only wearing the hat because I wasn’t wearing sunblock—I’m still trying to figure out what’s causing my rash. And I had headphones in, for heaven’s sake. I like Chanticleer, but I wasn’t that blissed out—I was on my way to get the stuff that makes me sick. I was out just doing a chore.

Still. God tossed a human pry-bar at me, and there we were. This happy-go-lucky, out-of-work truck driver, spiritual seeker, incredibly bouncy character, reminded me again how blessed I am. By looking in my face and seeing it.

I had to go to the hospital for my blood test; the Fabiola lab was closed. I said to the tech, “I should tell you that I’m on interferon, and I’m hard to stick. They had to use my hand the last two times. I hate that.”

She gave me one of the easiest pokes I’ve ever had. In my arm, in the usual place. I bled just beautifully. And when I got home, my numbers were still fine.

People kept smiling at me, all day. It was weird, in a good way. I didn’t feel like I was glowing. But something was going on.

I took BART back to Berkeley, and started walking up the hill. By then, I was tired, and had to stop a lot. My backpack held five boxes of interferon (they gave me an extra week, to get me through Christmas), a heavy icepack from the pharmacy because I’d forgotten to freeze mine, and my mostly-full sharps box, which they couldn’t take. It didn’t really weigh all that much—but walking with it wore me down.

I remembered something from an Annie Dillard book I read in college; I think it’s in Teaching a Stone to Talk. She buys the communion wine for her church, and writes about walking all over that small town with the blood of Christ in her backpack.

I’ve always loved that. And it’s no doubt weird to make myself sick to keep myself well—but there I was also, carrying what medical science gives me for healing.

I would have never known that man’s story, if he hadn’t been bursting to tell it. If you look at me, I’m any random student who dresses like a mountain climber, walks slow, and stops a lot. You don’t know what’s inside my backpack, or what’s inside my soul. We only know each other, if we take out our earphones and talk. In the space between us, there is God.

If that kind of random, intense connection happened every day, I’d stop leaving my bedroom. I don’t have the energy to live like that full-time. But this was a gift.

Thank you, man in the BART station. Thank you, MaryEllen. Thank you, competent lab tech. Thank you, Annie Dillard. Thank you Craig, the teacher who introduced me to her work, who drowned in Costa Rica seven years ago.

And thank you God, for all of it.


Paul said...



verification word is "pitie"

Seigneur, aie pitie.

it's margaret said...

"I would have never known that man’s story,
if he hadn’t been bursting to tell it.
If you look at me,
I’m any random student who dresses like a mountain climber,
walks slow,
and stops a lot.
You don’t know what’s inside my backpack,
or what’s inside my soul.
We only know each other,
if we take out our earphones
and talk.
In the space between us,
there is God.

Dang girl --it makes fine poetry. Take the capitals and commas out and you would give eecummings a run for his money!

And, have another blessed, shining day!

Kirstin said...

Yes, Paul. Wow.

Margaret, that's exactly the way I would have preached it. (Linda taught me, too.)

Grandmère Mimi said...

Kirstin, you're quite a story-teller, and what an encounter! I think that God put you two together for a few brief moments.

I'm still praying.

susankay said...

And thank YOU, Kirstin for allowing us into your space.

Jane R said...

Dear Kirstin, I just heard on NPR that they are looking for stories of "profound encounters with strangers." Yours would be perfect! Don't do this if you don't have the energy: you don't need one more thing. But if you want or are in the mood, write your story to . They also have a phone number you can call: 202-408-5183. They just announced this search today (Sunday) on "All Things Considered."

Thank you. There really are angels and we meet them on streets and buses.

Kirstin said...

Thanks, all!

Jane, I'll let you know what happens. :-)

Seattle Sue said...

Aha, I knew it wasn't Jacob's ladder! That's an historical misnomer: The ladder is the angels' - there's traffic between heaven and earth, a great coming and going, jostling and shoving of angels eager to get us together, eager to wrestle, to help us change from glory to glory.

Did you wrestle, Kirstin? Shall we now call you by another name? Do you walk with a limp, like Israel? Or are you wounded some other way? Oh, Best Beloved, you slept with a stone for your pillow! And such a dream have you dreamt of the regency of the Holy One! Blessed are you for telling us this and thus sending sparkles of hope forth to the darknesses with which we live.

Thank you.

LutheranChik said...

That is an absolutely awesome story.

eileen the uppity woman said...

Srsly. Awesome.

Ann said...

Wow- thanks -- best sermon on this Sunday morn.

Kirstin said...

Thank you, Ann!