Aleteia

My Mother Always Told Me: If You Get in Trouble Go to a Church

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Stranded, broke and alone on the cruel streets of New York City, I followed her advice

When I was 22, I moved to New York City. I quickly found a living situation in the Upper West Side in Manhattan, moving in with a literary agent who had a spare room. The rent was $400 a month. This was 1985.

Soon after, I found work, a temporary job at the American Bible Society, a Bible publishing company. I had wanted to find something in publishing, so this gig was perfect. My friends back home joked with me about my new job “editing the Bible.” I got paid every other week, but I had nowhere to cash the checks because I didn’t have a bank account. The banks had a rule that you needed to be a resident of the city for a month before you could open an account. So not knowing what else to do, check in hand, I walked downtown to lower Manhattan, where I’d heard that there was a place that would conveniently cash my first pay check.

As I walked, the streets started to look a little dirtier, and the people, a little tougher. Finally, I found the check cashing business. I went in and soon, I had about $500 in my pocket. For some reason, I hadn’t taken my purse.

“Mission accomplished,” I said to myself, and started to walk back up to the Upper West Side. It was a nice spring day, and I was enjoying my walk. I liked to look in the cheap clothing stores and gaze at the barrels of fresh flowers in front of tiny delis.

Then, something dawned on me — a sinking, awful feeling, a nagging fear. I had a strong hunch that I’d been robbed. I put my hand in my pocket to see if I was right. Yes, I was. Someone had slipped his hand in and taken my $500! The thief had been watching me, I knew. He had posted himself right by the check cashing business and looked for his next victim. I was sure he cleaned up daily, stealing from naïve out-of-towners, innocent girls who did temp work to survive.

Well, to say that I felt horrible was an understatement. I burned with resentment. How could someone have done this to me? I hadn’t done anything to him.

I ran to my small, rented room in the literary agent’s apartment and cried. Now, how was I going to pay the rent? I lay on my twin bed and finally fell asleep.

When I woke up, I needed some air. Soon, I found myself on the dirty streets of New York again. I didn’t know where I was going and simply meandered down the sidewalk a couple blocks.

Life was happening all around me; pretty ladies were pushing babies in strollers; elderly men were inspecting fruit at the fruit stands; the guy who sold used books on the sidewalk was sitting in front of his portable library, which was spread out on the cement. Even though I’d shut down emotionally, the city hadn’t.

To my right, I noticed a huge church. I was a good Catholic. My mother had always told me, if I get in trouble, go to a church. I went inside and instantly felt better. The place was perfectly quiet, and I could detect the light fragrance of incense. The sun streamed through the wonderful green, red and blue stained-glass windows. I sat down in a pew and prayed.

“Dear Lord, I thank you for convincing my mother to let me move to New York City. But I’ve been robbed. I pray that somehow I get my $500 back.” My face was wet with tears, and my nose was running. I didn’t have a tissue.

Just then, a small Indian man dressed in priestly garb appeared.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hello.”

“You are crying. Are you in distress?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve been robbed. Some guy took my $500 right out of my pocket.”

“You should never carry around that kind of money in this town,” he said kindly. “My name is Lazarus. What’s your name?”

Lazarus. He’d been named after the man whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

“My name is Laurie.”

“This is a dangerous city. One needs to be very careful.” And then, the priest did something that I’ll never forget. He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out an old, leather wallet. Then, Lazarus handed me $30.

“This is all I have,” he said. “Take it.”

It wasn’t his money that made me smile. And it certainly wasn’t $500. It was this small, Indian man who’d restored my faith in the residents of New York, my angel.

I will never forget Father Lazarus and how he made me smile again.

Then, he took me out of the church and into the rectory. On a desk in his office, he had a box of tissues.

Lazarus dried my tears.

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