This one, I’m not sure how to write. The story doesn’t resolve-she doesn’t resolve. In this grand symphony we call life, she is a haunting minor chord-the slight grating noise of a key misplaced. She is uncomfortable, and hastily forgotten as the music swells.
But I can’t forget Madame Diatta.
I went for my usual run on the beach on Friday. I do it every day-it takes me about ten minutes to get from my apartment door to a stretch of beach that happens to be both the safest and most beautiful place in the city for me to run. Something about the familiar, salty air and the reassuring ebb and flow of the Atlantic is irresistible to me-reminding me of a God who, like the ocean tide, never changes.
I run up and down that stretch of beach every evening, just before the sun slips away. But on Friday, something was different. An older woman wearing black from head to toe was unsteadily standing on the side of the road, hesitantly holding out her wavering hand in an unsuccessful attempt to hitchhike. I watched her fearfully jerk her hand out of the way as dilapidated taxis sputtered towards her-wherever she needed to go, it was painfully clear that she couldn’t pay to get there.
She walked with a pronounced limp that suggested some sort of birth defect-I watched her lunge wildly from side to side as though her body were entirely out of her control. I ran by her several times over the course of an hour, and watched as the occasional car would stop for a brief moment, and turning a blind eye to the broken woman quietly begging to be allowed inside, would quickly drive away upon the discovery that she had nothing to give in exchange for the ride that she needed.
She tried for an hour. She stood staunchly, resolutely, with a pleading, despairing look on her face, fighting the grim reality that the help she so desperately needed was not coming as car after car passed her by. She looked hopeless- like she was fighting tears.
Have you ever watched a stranger for an hour? I felt somehow as though I knew her as I watched her finally turn from the road and start to loudly call out the name of Muhammad in a husky voice, extending her hand to those passing by her, pleading for their spare change. She swayed violently down the sidewalk, unable to really move, …but what choice did she have? She jerked crudely towards the people that were going out of their way to avoid the oddity drunkenly weaving up the sidewalk-they stared straight through her. She was the victim of fleeting, curious glances lasting mere seconds before people turned away uncomfortably and kept hurriedly walking.
She was invisible.
She started to limp towards me. I normally only give food to people that ask me for money in Dakar-but she was different. I had the equivalent of about four dollars with me, [nothing to you and I, but it’s enough to get you anywhere you need to go in the city] and her chocolate eyes widened as she took the crumpled bill in her gnarled hands. Big, crocodile tears began to spill down her cheeks as over and over again, she gratefully repeated “Merci! Merci, merci.”
Through broken sobs, she asked for my name, and then haltingly stuttered, “Moi, je m’appelle Madame Diatta. Merci merci! Il y a rien pour l’handicapé ici.” [My name is Madame Diatta. Thank you! There is nothing for the handicapped here.]
In all of my time in Dakar, Madame Diatta is the first beggar to ask me for my name and give me hers. I think in the midst of a world that stares straight through her, for even the briefest moment she wanted to be seen. To most of us, she is little more than a depressing, forgettable statistic. But she has a name. Madame Diatta is somebody’s daughter-and at one point, given the fact that she is a “Madame” and not a “Mademoiselle”, she was somebody’s wife. She laughs and cries, daydreams and has a favorite food. She is somebody.
Madame Diatta must have tearfully thanked me at least two dozen times-all for the equivalent of one of those caramel lattes that I’m always talking about. Sadly, if her exuberant reaction is indicative, that forgettable four dollars was the nicest thing that someone had done for her in quite a while.
In a world that stares straight through her and pretends her away-I so desperately want her to understand that there is Someone who sees her standing the side of the road, and cries with her. She is precious to Someone. She is greatly, dearly loved-desired, and pursued. That there is hope.
Do I understand why God allowed Madame Diatta to the born with legs that are all but unusable? Why I’ve never missed a meal in my life, but she spends her days fighting persistent, gnawing hunger that never seems to go away? I don’t understand. What I do know is that God didn’t ever intend for her to live that way-and He Himself left the wonder of heaven to enter into her pain with her. With us. To come hang naked and broken on a cross for a hopeless world drowning in suffering of our own making. We were so, irreparably broken that He had to be broken on our behalf to fix us. I follow a God that intimately understands what it is to feel brokenness and agony-in a way that you and I and even Madame Diatta never will. Jesus died for broken people like Madame Diatta and you and I-to give us hope in the midst of intense pain. And hope does not disappoint. Hope is trust and confidence and expectation. Trust that He knows what He’s doing. Confidence that He’s done it before and expectation that He’ll do it again.
I want Madame Diatta to know hope. Without Jesus, there is none.