The Message of Presence

Sometimes God pulls you towards certain people; other times, he pushes them to you. This is the case with Miriam, a young girl from our block who has taken a special shining to me. Miriam is an orphan, and lives with her step-mother, who neglects her in favor of caring for her own children. In addition, Miriam has mild mental retardation.

From the moment I arrived, a lot of the children in the neighborhood have gravitated toward me and clamored for attention whenever I was available to give it. Miriam, however, would never leave my side during our Tuesday activities. She comes to my house looking for me nearly every day. She has a knack for showing up right when I’m hoping to take a break in my day, and through her I am learning to be interruptible.

I don’t really understand what she gets out of our interactions, because she barely speaks English and our conversations are pretty much limited to “hi,” “how are you,” “fine” and not much else. It is hard to feel like I am accomplishing anything positive in her life by sitting there unable to have a conversation with her. Somehow, though, she appears to derive great joy just from sitting with me, or watching me as I go about whatever I’m doing, or playing with my hair, because she keeps on coming back. While often my instinct is to hide away because it can be so awkward spending my silent times with her, I am touched by how happy she is to see me.

Maybe all I am called to offer her right now is a big smile and a hug when I see her, and the knowledge that she is worth my time. Incarnational ministry is mostly about the message of presence and perhaps I am learning to simply be present for Miriam, before I jump into all the doing that my cultural disposition and pride have told me is all-important.

- Julie Irvin