Friday, December 24, 2010

A Breakthrough in the Backdrop of Baltimore

Part 5 of this story series ....

Baltimore Inner Harbor's perpetual carnival-like atmosphere draws both kids and grownups by throngs. During the day, the place hums with street jugglers and musicians that wow the crowds. Tourists promenade a plaza while bathed in the Chesapeake Bay's breeze. A Naval ship is always docked alongside a length of shops and restaurants. It eclipses small "water taxis" that ferry families to the Fort McHenry National Monument (where Francis Scott Key composed "The Star Spangled Banner").

Seals playing in a pool outside the National Aquarium of Baltimore bark their greetings to kiddos. And if you'd rather eat your seafood than see it, restaurants galore offer the best of Maryland cuisine.

Combine all of this with Camden Yards, home to the Baltimore Orioles, and the bar-hopping night life in the nearby historically-quaint Fell's Point, and you have a recipe for weekend bliss.

All of this was just about an hour's drive from my little apartment near the Pennsylvania/Maryland border. I loved going to Baltimore as much as I possibly could manage it.
So when Joy suggested I meet her and her sweet little girl one Saturday at the Harbor, I enthusiastically said yes.

It had been about six months since Joy shared she was sick with breast cancer. I wasn't quite prepared for the physical change she'd undergone. Gaunt and frail, she still managed to keep her energetic child under control with her Steel Magnolia voice. She was obviously struggling physically to get through the aquarium exhibits, so when she suggested that we meander to the busy shops and restaurants, I was surprised.

"Are you sure you don't want to go home?" I asked.

"No!" she protested. "We came to meet you for the day! This is fun!"

We strolled by the street performers that were entertaining crowds under colorful, wind-whipped flags. Joy, never one to shirk an opportunity to tease, elbowed me as Navy seamen passed us and exchanged flirtatious glances. We indulged in Maryland crabcakes (ahhh, the days before my allergy to shellfish) and saltwater taffy.

Then Joy suggested that we hit a kids' science store, which contained shelves of "experiments," inflatable solar systems to hang from ceilings, butterfly nets, books about the human body and all manner of create-your-own-volcano kits.

"We love this store," Joy sighed, as if she was in her own personal heaven.

"I can see why," I agreed, not yet a mother but appreciating its kid-appeal. "I can probably find Christmas presents in here for my nephew."

As her child perused collections of plastic dinosaurs and plushy dolphins, Joy walked over to a large bin containing multi-colored crystals and rocks. I watched as she gingerly fingered each one, stroking edges as if the rocks were jewels.

"What are these?"

"These," she said dramatically, "have healing powers."

I laughed.

She shot me a dirty look.

"No, really. Why are you interested in these?"

"They really do have the power to heal!" she protested. "Native American tribes believe they have energies and can provide therapy."

"Joy," I sighed. "Joy, Joy, Joy. You're an atheist. Are you listening to yourself?" I said, but then stopped laughing when I saw the hurt look on her face. "Listen," I said, quickly realizing that I'd treaded too far. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize you took this so seriously."

She was holding a smooth, flat, grey stone with a $20 price tag. "Would you like me to buy one for you, too?" she asked.

I caught my breath. I was flabbergasted at both her strong desire to believe anything -- anything, except for God -- and at her earnestness in wanting to share her newfound discovery of "crystal healing" with me. But I shook my head.

"Joy, you're so sweet. That's so kind of you to offer. But, no. If you need these to feel better, get one for yourself, but I'm okay. You know I don't believe in anything like that. I believe in God's power."

She nodded and asked me to watch her child while she went to the cash register, buying the rock and a stuffed dolphin that the little girl had selected.

As I drove home from the outing, I was extremely troubled, but at the same time, hopeful.

If Joy was willing to embrace the idea of the healing power of a rock, did that mean she was not far off from considering God's existence?

Would she die without knowing Him, continuing to search for life's meaning through things like crystals? Or was she on the cusp of finally accepting something so much greater?

I didn't know ... but I resolved to pray.

And I did.

Tune in for part 6 of the tale ...

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