by Katherine E. Rabenau
Gloria Sampson could hardly believe that she had just become the first woman Cardinal in the Anglican Church -- or any church for that matter. Apostolic succession was irrevocably altered. The Church was irrevocably altered. But, of course, that had happened earlier, long before today's ceremony.
Most people thought the stories about her were apocryphal, works of fiction to make her seem extraordinary. Few really believed (although it was true) that the serene, elegant woman standing before them, had, just eight years earlier, been a filthy, homeless hag, roaming the streets filled with rage and despair. Crawling with lice, she had smelled so bad that you could sense her approach from a block away. It was not that she didn't care. She cared desperately. But she had had no idea of how to fend for herself. She was so terribly ashamed. The more dirty and hungry she became, the deeper her shame, so that she did not dare seek out those things which could alleviate her distress. What kept her alive in those early months she would never know, but what had saved her, that was something else.
Was it the hand of God? No. That would make a good story, but she liked the truth better. For what had saved her was a simple act of human kindness. Was it a priest, then? That would make a nice story too, but the priests, offended by her smell, had been only too glad to see her scurry away, had kept their hands clean, doing their "good deed" (bags of food) from a convenient, sanitized distance.
The act of kindness had come from a threadbare old woman in her late seventies. She was painfully thin, her clothes were ragged, her shoes just barely holding together. She moved arthritically and was clearly more than a little concerned for her safety, yet, seeing Gloria huddled next to the garbage cans, she had looked at her squarely and said: "What's your name? Mine's Rose."
Stunned at being spoken to as though she was human, Gloria had told her.
"You smell awful, honey. How can you stand it?"
And Gloria had wept. Before she could stop herself, all the pain and grief and fear of her months on the street had flowed out of her.
"Well, they should lock me up for crazy and throw away the key, but come on with me, girl. I ain't got much, but I do got soap and water. You got lice?"
Gloria had nodded yes.
"Crazy, I must be crazy. Try not to touch anything. Johnson kids had lice. Mrs. J. will know what to do. Stop snivelling and come along."
And that was how it began.
Rose bathed her, deloused her, took her in and shared her frugal fare with her.
And daily, over and over, Rose had told her: "You been touched by God, child. Dirty and smelly as you was, I could see God's mark on you. He got a purpose for you. I see it."