2:00 pm, 120th and Madison. Headphones and ponytail firmly in place, I marched towards the train station to the beat of a Phoenix tune.
“Excuse me, miss?”
A tall, African-American woman wearing a crisp-yet-stained white shirt, bedazzled jeans and tennis shoes stopped me.
She was missing all her teeth.
I pulled out my headphones.
“I have to take a step back,” she said, and did so, “because I’m so ashamed. I don’t have any teeth.”
She opened her mouth and showed me her gums.
“That’s okay,” I reluctantly offered. I wasn’t sure what she wanted from me, and I had to catch a train.
The woman started to cry.
“I am so ugly!” she sobbed. “My husband beat me in the face a few years ago and I lost all my teeth. My daughter died when she was four and today is my birthday. I’m 69 years old.”
I took a step towards her.
“69?!?” I exclaimed, in encouraging disbelief. “Well, happy birthday!”
She sobbed, harder. Gigantic tears dropped onto her smooth cheeks. She really was beautiful.
I took another step towards her.
“May I pray for you?” I asked, not knowing what else to do.
She nodded, and bowed her head.
I stepped all the way in and placed my hand on her shoulder. Immediately, she fell into me, limp and needy. I held her. She smelled of alcohol, but it didn’t matter. She was in pain.
As I prayed for her, she softened. I prayed God would comfort her; that He would wrap His loving arms around her and remind her of how beautiful she truly is.
Teeth or no teeth.
“I may be beautiful on the inside,” she whimpered, “but I’m so ugly on the outside. People make fun of me. I just want to die. I wish I were never born.”
“That is simply untrue,” I almost scolded her. “I don’t bullshit. I speak truth, and you are beautiful. Also? You are loved far beyond you can imagine. And I am glad you are here, right now.”
She buried her face in my neck, kissed and thanked me. She didn’t want money, just clothes. I gave her my phone number and told her I did, indeed, have clothing I could give her.
“I love you,” she said. “Thank you. Please keep praying for me. I’ll see you in heaven.”
And she was gone.
I’m sitting on a train platform, not sure how to process all of this, but I have a few initial thoughts.
First of all, I am reminded that humans are absolutely beautiful, no matter what size, shape, color, sexual preference, fashion sense, social/job/financial status, or disability.
We are beautiful with or without teeth.
We are worthy of love. We long to love and be loved in return.
I know why I live in New York. It’s to love the people of this city. People who are hurting and broken and missing things, like spouses and love and children and teeth. I somehow understand that pain.
Everything points to God. Even our suffering.
Jesus suffered the most. He gets it. And I’m quite sure it was He who wrapped his loving arms around that toothless woman.
He wants to envelop you, beautiful friend who is suffering. Allow Him to fully embrace you. There is nothing He cannot handle. He is the lover of your soul. He is the ultimate healer.
After all, He
“rides on the clouds;
rejoice before him—his name is the Lord.
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.”