Friday, March 19, 2010

I Give You My Shoes!

When I was a little girl, I enjoyed reading Reader’s Digest. I liked the stories about real people who did heroic things. (I still like these stories.) One story made such an impression on me that I remember it after all these years. The details are fuzzy, but the impact is fresh.

As I recall, the story took place in a Muslim country, somewhere on a beach. A local woman was walking along the beach in a tourist area with a male companion from America. The account of what happened was written by the man.

As they strolled along an isolated stretch of sand, carrying their shoes in their hands, they were suddenly accosted by a group of robbers brandishing knives. The thieves circled them and demanded their money and valuables. The man described his terror as he imagined his imminent painful, bloody death, and his helpless failure to protect his friend. As he fumbled with trembling hands to get his wallet out and remove his watch, his female companion drew herself up and faced the leader, who towered over her.

Her eyes blazing, she looked him in the eye and said, “You may not steal from me. Allah forbids it. I give you my shoes as a gift to save your soul. May Allah have mercy on you.”

I have no memory of why this big ol’ scary, knife-wielding man would want a pair of women’s shoes, but there they all stood, the robbers momentarily flummoxed by this tiny woman defiantly thrusting her shoes toward the leader.

Her horrified companion held his breath, certain it would be his last. After what seemed like forever, the leader lowered his knife. I don’t remember what he said to the woman, but he called his band of thieves away and left the two of them unharmed and unrobbed.

This brave woman understood exactly what Jesus meant when he instructed his disciples, “If anyone would take your tunic, give him your cloak as well.” I am pretty sure that in the situation described above, however, I would be much more like the man, scrambling to give the robbers whatever they wanted and hoping beyond hope they would not hurt me.

In a very different scenario, I walked into my living room one morning years ago and startled a teenaged boy I knew from the neighborhood. He had come in through a door I thought I had locked, and was standing there going through my purse. Fueled by adrenaline, I screamed at him to get out of my house. (I can’t print what I actually said.) He dropped everything and ran. Emboldened by his reaction, I shouted at him from the front porch, demanding that he return while I called the police. When he kept running (what a surprise), I grabbed my keys and, clad only in my robe, jumped in the car and gave chase. Thank goodness he veered off the street and ran between two houses before I could run him over. To this day I wonder if I would have.

I read about a Tibetan monk who was crying as he was being tortured by Chinese soldiers. When one of his tormentors ridiculed him for his tears, the monk explained that he was crying out of compassion because of all the bad karma his captors were creating for themselves.

Forgive them for they know not what they do. Can we forgive ourselves?

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