January 28, 2005

Encounter in Mercy - Twickenham

Sr Maureen Murphy is a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy of the Union (GB). She is resident in Birmingham, having spent many years in St Edward's Convent, London and in St Catherine's Convent, Twickenham. Among her many duties, one was to minister to the homeless who came daily to the door to receive food and drink. Maureen was inspired to write the poem as a result of her contact with the homeless.

Encounter in Mercy - Twickenham

I’ll never forget you, old friend.
You redeemed my comfortable, convenient existence that day
By turning up just when you did
And asking for a sandwich.

No problem, I thought, a plentiful supply
And a minimum of time taken – therefore
A minimum given you, of course…
But there was more to come.

I saw your finger
As you reached to receive your daily bread
Which I take for granted and you can’t afford to.
Where does that leave you and me in God’s sight?

The finger was caked in blood, cracked in pain.
‘I fell’, you said – apologetically,
And I fell for your word, thank God.
So you waited and I went for water
To mingle with the blood and cleanse it.

Waiting was hard, humiliating by the looks of it,
For you’d moved by the time I got back,
Not wanting to hover round the door
Where people passed and respectfully asked – nothing.

You’d taken up a position at the bus-stop,
A purposeful one, you hoped people would think,
Needed them to think…they don’t like loiterers hanging about.
There was too much hanging once on a cross

And ever since, we’ve been insecure in the face of
Don’t-know-what-to-do-about-it suffering…

Anyway, there you were, up the road,
Looking back in case I’d reappear and there I was,
Anxious to allay your fear and wondering all the time
If I was doing the right thing…

So we met again, not over a sandwich
But over a split knuckle that needed seeing to.
Did you really fall, I wonder?
Well, whatever it was, you’d lost blood as well as dignity
And God knows how that feels…

Clean tissues, a drop of warm water
Were miracles to you then, not to mention a Band-aid and Germolene,
But I think it was the time given you
And the soothing effect of water mixed with words that were ordinary,
Like you’d say to a child – ‘There, that’ll make it better…’
That really touched you.

‘How kind,’ you said, and you looked me straight in the eye,
‘My, that feels better,’ you murmured with relief
And this time I was touched.
It was you who healed me that day
With your need and your acceptance of the little I had to give
And I’ll never forget you, old friend…

Sister Maureen Murphy rsm,– 4 November 1983(Stechford Community, Birmingham, UK)

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