The sun peeked flirtatiously out from behind the clouds, beaming happily down upon the shriveled old woman precariously perched in the wheelchair. She looked like an African sunbather, out for an afternoon of leisure. Her head leaned back, glorying in the rays that had stayed hidden for most of the day. Her body was wrinkled like a raisin, and it abruptly lost its shape underneath the blanket where her legs should have been. Her wheelchair teetered dangerously on the dirt mound.
The ground upon which the wheelchair sat was littered with trash, haphazardly thrown into her front lawn by “friendly” neighbors. A ruggedly handsome man smiled warmly up at me from the front of a cigarette carton as I cautiously stepped toward her. The faint stench of rancid meat and dirty diapers mingled in the air, and I was silently grateful that the sun was not out full strength in order to bring this noxious combination to its full potential.
I advanced toward her with Mike (the outreach director for the church) by my side trying, unsuccessfully, to mask the look of pity on my face. The lady in the wheelchair waved amiably to us, and as we moved closer I couldn’t help but notice her smile. It seemed oddly misplaced for it contained the rays of innocence and zest for life of a sixteen-year old girl who had just discovered love. It was like a magic potion. It was intoxicating, and it filled me with a sense of goodness and joy so that I found myself smiling back in spite of our surroundings.
“How’s the hand today?” Mike asked as he gingerly lifted up the hand in question.
“Ugh,” She flinched as he began to unwrap the bandage on her pointer finger. Ugh tends to be a universal word for pain, but still her smile stayed strong. “They are going to take it off on Monday.”
Her finger was black as coal and seemed to be shedding its skin like a snake. The fingernail popped up so that it appeared to be festering as we watched. A slight acidity affronted my nostrils as the bandage hit the ground, and I had to check my reflex to pull away.
“Gangrene,” Mike replied to my look of horror. “They’re going to amputate, but it might be too late. Probably lose more of her hand.”
“Oh my goodness.” It was the only response I could muster.
Mike and I went inside her hut to leave her some soup and bread. As soon as we entered her “home” I felt tears begin to form.Flies swarmed busily around the shanty spreading germs through the room. Her entire house consisted of one small room, the size of my storage space, where she, her daughter, and her two grandkids slept, ate, and used the bathroom. How could there not be flies?
After checking out her living situation and putting away the food, we packed up our group of volunteers to go. The woman I now thought of as Grandma Sunshine took our hands, and with a smile as bright as the sunshine, left us with the parting words, “God bless you.”
That’s when it hit me like a sledgehammer. I knew where she got that smile from, the one so intoxicating and full of love-faith. This woman with no legs, no finger, and no means of support for herself or her family had faith. A deep, abiding loyalty to faith that I could only envy.
In this dilapidated hut, in this forgotten township, was a beacon of belief. She is the kind of believer no one can defeat. A woman beat down by life, but full of happiness because she has the support of God to lean upon. The ultimate believer and I bow down to that faith and support.