The Bag Lady and the Bismark

Pat’s daughter was dying and her co-workers knew it. Each day after work, Pat headed to the AIDS residence to sit by her grown daughter’s bedside. She also offered her sewing skills to other residents of the house. She mended clothes, replaced buttons, and altered garments to fit bodies that were wasting away. She distributed rosary beads and music tapes. Mostly she tried to squeeze a lifetime of loving into the few remaining months of her daughter’s life.
“You’re exhausted,” her supervisor said to Pat one day. The supervisor insisted that Pat take off every Tuesday afternoon in order to spend more time with her daughter. The young woman did not have many Tuesdays left.
One Tuesday afternoon in late May, Pat headed out on an errand before visiting her daughter. It was pouring rain and she was distracted as she pondered her daughter’s fragile health. After completing the errand, Pat was about to drive to the AIDS residence when she realized that she was growing light-headed. She needed an afternoon snack.
“I wish there was an old-fashioned bakery nearby,” she thought.
Immediately she spotted a bakery across the street.
Pat headed toward it, musing about how much she would enjoy a traditional bismark – a European pastry similar to a doughnut, filled with jam or custard. “No one makes bismarks anymore,” she warned herself as she stepped into the small shop.
But there they were. Next to the register sat a display case with fresh bismarks.
“Bismarks!” she exclaimed. “I’ll take one, and a cup of tea, please.”
With bismark and tea in hand, Pat headed to a tiny table in a corner of the shop. Before she could settle in, however, she became aware of a woman standing over her. The woman carried two enormous garbage bags bulging with clothing. She wore a baggy dress splattered with big flowers; rather ugly, Pat thought. She also wore a ratty fur coat that smelled rancid from the drenching rain. Her face looked haggard and old.
Pat locked eyes with the woman. They were the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen.
The woman just stared back.
Finally Pat spoke. “I can’t believe I found bismarks,” she said. “Would you like half of mine?”
“No,” the woman with the bags replied. “I’m waiting for a taxi. I’ve been waiting and waiting.”
Pat hesitated. She was anxious to get on her way, and yet she couldn’t look away from those piercing eyes. “I can drive you where you’re going,” Pat offered.
“Are you familiar with the streets in this town?” the woman asked.
“No, but we can find our way.”
Slipping the treat into her pocket, Pat and the stranger hurried through the driving rain to Pat’s old car. They were mostly quiet as they drove, but Pat did tell the woman that her daughter was very ill and that she was worried about her.
Suddenly the woman announced, “Stop here.” It was an odd location because there were no residences nearby. “But it’s raining,” Pat objected. “Let me take you to your apartment.”
The woman insisted that she be dropped off there. Pat stopped the car and the woman climbed out.
The stranger began to walk away. Then she turned back and said softly, “Your daughter will be with the communion of saints very soon.”
Pat’s eyes filled with tears. When she looked up to respond, the woman was gone.
Three weeks later, Pat’s daughter died of AIDS.
Pat has often wondered if the woman with the piercing eyes was an angel in disguise. After all, in showing hospitality to strangers, some have entertained angels unawares.
I hope it’s true. You see, Pat is my mother, and it was my sister who lay dying. The stranger’s words gave my mother hope during a time of great sadness.
Her words give me hope as well.