It was small claims court day. That was my day every couple of weeks, where it was time to exact my insurance company clients’ pound of flesh from the uninsured drivers who had caused the accidents that resulted in the payout of claims. Sue, get a judgment, suspend their drivers licenses and garnish their wages. It was not enjoyable work, but it was something that needed to be done in order to keep everyones’ insurance rates from going through the roof. After all, if your policy has to cover the accidents you cause as well as the accidents the other guy causes, then doesn’t it have to cost twice as much?
It was in this not-too-charming setting that I noticed her.
She was a woman, perhaps in her early 70s. I had seen her several times during my morning. This small claims court was in an old shopping center and she had spent much time out on the sidewalk, as if waiting for someone. Periodically, she had come into the building to warm up. It was a cold day but she was not really dressed for it.
I don’t usually pay much attention to the “civilians” in small claims court unless they are there on one of my cases. This is where landlords come to evict non-paying tenants and collection agencies come to shake a few bucks out of the pockets of those behind on payday loans or medical bills, so seeing an old, shabbily dressed woman there was not something that would normally make me take notice.
But for some reason, I did take notice. I was finishing my paperwork and preparing to leave when I saw that she was still outside, waiting. I asked one of the clerks what was up with her. “I don’t know, she has been out there all morning. One of the times when she came in, I asked if I could help her and she said she just came in to warm up.”
As I walked out the door I stopped. “Ma’am, it’s awfully cold out and you have been here awhile. Do you need a ride somewhere?” I have no idea why I offered her a ride. I pretty much never offer a ride to strangers. But how dangerous could an old lady be? “Thank you” she said. “I guess he isn’t coming.”
I helped her into my car and, after stowing my briefcase, got in myself and started the engine. I introduced myself, and she did the same. “My name is Endicott.” “OK”, I asked, “where do you live?” She gave me an address. The address was a little surprising, it was a little farther away than I was expecting and in a neighborhood that was rougher than it used to be. We made small talk as I drove there. She was pleasant but a little guarded, as I suppose any older lady would be in the car of a complete stranger.
Although something had seemed a little off from the beginning, it was only when she started telling me about her new business venture that I knew something was very wrong. “I am working on a new project of making greeting cards. I draw pictures of baked goods and make cards with them. Here, would you like one?” She handed me what was a double-folded sheet of white paper with some rudimentary drawings of bread and rolls on the front. And there was her name at the bottom.
My suspicion that things were going badly sideways was confirmed when we got to the address she had given me. What had once been a modest little post-WWII tract home was now on the edge of becoming a slum. There was a broken window in the storm door and the place was in terrible repair. She got out and went to the door. Then she came back to the car. “I don’t have my key and nobody is home.”
“OK” I said to myself. “This old lady has Alzheimers. She probably lived here years ago. So what do I do with her?” She suggested some other address that was farther away. But she had already told me that she had walked to the shopping center where I had found her, so that couldn’t have been it. I had to get back to work but before that could happen, I had to get my passenger somewhere. But where?
I was getting ready to head for the nearest police station so that I could make her the problem of someone whose job it is to deal with such things. Because this kind of problem certainly wasn’t mine. I remember saying a brief silent prayer, something to the effect of “A little help here, God, because I don’t know what I’m going to do with her if I can’t get her home.” Within another few minutes she gave me another address. It was an address I recognized as being withing walking distance from the small claims court. “Alright” I thought to myself. “Let’s give this one more shot and see if I can get her home. If not, it’s off to the police station.”
I found my way to the modest home in an older suburb. “This looks more like it”, I thought to myself. “Is this the house?” “Yes” she replied. She got out of the car and I held my breath as she walked to the front door. “Please, please, let this be it.” As she approached the front door, it opened and she walked in. Breathing one of the biggest sighs of relief ever, I decided to swing past the court to see if the papers I had left were ready. No sense making another trip if they had been processed.
When I walked in the clerk handed me my papers and also handed me a pair of black knitted gloves. “That old lady you took home left these here.” I formed some bad words in my mind. I had planned on being back to the office something like an hour ago, and now I’m holding these damned gloves. “Well [bad words] I am this close, I might as well take these [bad words] gloves over to the house, and then I can be done with this whole affair.”
I drove back to the little house and parked in the driveway. I left the engine running because I had no time to mess around. An old man opened the door and I handed him the gloves. “I dropped a lady off here a bit earlier, but she left her gloves over at the small claims court and I figured she needed them.” As he took the gloves, he looked at me. His eyes began to well up as he said “Are you the one who brought her back? You are an angel. My wife has Alzheimers and got out of the house somehow this morning. I had no idea where she went and I was worried sick! Thank you! Thank you, so much!” I smiled, said that I was happy to help and walked back to my car.
There are many words I have used to describe myself, but angel is so not one of them. As I got back in the car and started to drive away the enormity of it all started to settle in. Did I actually experience the Voice of God? Did I allow myself to get deputized as a temporary guardian angel to get a poor old confused woman back to her home and family? Many people would say no, that I was just doing a kindness. But I have suspected from the beginning that there was more to it than that. Because everything about the encounter was just so . . . strange.
I have never forgotten Mrs. Endicott in the fifteen or twenty years that have passed since that day we spent some time in my car. Since then I have used the hand-drawn card she gave me as the bookmark in my too-seldom-used Bible. It has served as an effective reminder that God does indeed work in mysterious ways and gives a renewed meaning to the Psalm that we Catholics often sung at Mass: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”
Because maybe that little urging that we can sometimes experience in our minds or in our hearts is something more.