September 25, 2009

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

Reflection on ‘the art of entertaining angels’

Debra TomaselliSometimes when I struggle with a decision, it ends up delivering immeasurable blessings in my life … and in the lives of others.

Like the Saturday night that I felt a burning desire to get a haircut. Saturdays are typically “date night” for my husband and me, and I would have much rather been sitting down to a steak dinner than plopping into a salon chair. I couldn’t understand my inner urgency to get a haircut.

“They’re probably closed,” I murmured as I dialed the salon. The voice at the other end of the line said they could cut my hair if I came right away.

At the same time, a hefty black woman stepped outside, looked to the heavens and heaved a great sigh. She began shifting one foot in front of the other, laboring her way past sandwich shops, clothing stores and restaurants. Cars, trucks and buses dashed by her, oblivious to the lone, lumbering figure. When she finally stopped to rest at a roadside bench, shoppers zipped by without a smile or kind word for her.

Odd, what she needed the most surrounded her, but she had no way to get it. She was hungry, but she had no food. There was a grocery, but she had no money. She had walked a long way from home, and she didn’t have the strength to return there.

Finally, dejected and weary, she placed her head in her hands and surrendered to the tears.

“Please, Jesus,” she prayed. “Please send someone to help me.”

I pulled my van alongside the curb, threw the gearshift in park, jumped out and raced inside the salon. In passing, I spotted the woman sitting on the bench, but I dismissed her from my thoughts.

My stylist scrubbed my hair and clipped the strands, rattling incessantly about the movie she saw last week. When I stepped outside again, the first brushes of nighttime blanketed the street.

I had slipped my keys from my pocket and stepped off the curb when the woman approached me.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” she said, stepping into the light. “Can you help me?”

For a moment, I bristled, but then something reassured me. “What do you need?” I asked the hefty black woman.

“I don’t have any food,” she said. As she explained her plight, I knew I could help her.

“Hop in the car,” I said. “We can go to the grocery store across the street.”

“I knew God would send someone to help me,” she said, climbing into my van. “And when I saw you walking into the hair-cutting place, I knew you were my angel.”

She told me that she became a Christian as a teenager, and God always met her needs in desperate situations like this one. She admitted that she didn’t really know where she was going when she set out on her walk that evening, and I confessed to her that the salon wasn’t my normal Saturday night stop.

As our stories unraveled, a deep connection formed. In that exchange, she delivered an invaluable lesson. Although I will never see her again, I will forever remember our encounter, her faith and the wonder of a God who brought us together in her time of need.

That experience reminded me of a Scripture passage from the Old Testament: “Continue to be kind to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without even knowing it” (Heb 13:2).

(Debra Tomaselli lives in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Her column appears in several diocesan newspapers. Her e-mail address is †

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