Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.- Hebrews 2:14-15
I was waiting for the team members in front of the steps of the Roman Catholic Cathedral which is located in the old center of the city. The square pertaining to the church is where many of the homeless have found refuge at least for the past twenty years. In the evenings, some religious and altruistic societies come out to feed the homeless here. Consequently, it has became a the gathering point for the homeless towards the end of the day. While waiting for the team members to arrive, I noticed a man shouting out with much conviction and enthusiasm that he was from a state in the Northeast of Brazil even though he supported the local soccer team. He kept repeating this the whole time I was standing there. For some reason, in his state of insanity, he believed that the whole world should be made aware of this fact. Everyone just ignored this man which infuriated him even more and he started shouting at every passerby. This is quite a common scene among the homeless. Most of them suffer some sort of mental illness and it is not uncommon see people arguing or having heated discussion with an imaginary enemy. My mind was drifting off aimlessly thinking about the people in my surroundings and I can see how easy it is to tip over to the other side. Thankfully, the team members arrived and we found a large group of children and teens in the square.
The children were unusually eager to do activities with us. We were playing all kinds of games and some of them were even in the mood to chat with us. So far everything was going well. In the midst of this, there was another insane homeless woman who was accusing the children that they had stolen something from her. Nobody paid any attention to her including myself. I was having a great conversation with one of the teens. Then, all the sudden, I felt an icy cold liquid running down my hair and within seconds my shirt was soaking wet. I felt someone pouring what felt like a bucket of cold water on me. I stood up and saw that it was the crazy woman and she had emptied a large container of fuel alcohol on me. She was yelling at everyone saying that she meant business. I was really annoyed and confronted her. Then one of the older teens ran up to me and warned me that she had a lighter in her hand. The older teens surrounded her and threatened to hit her. She had a knife and a lighter in her hand and had threatened to set me on fire. I was in a daze for a moment and I heard people telling me to stay away from her. By this time, I began to sense the pungent stench of the alcohol. All the children and teens who are accustomed to violence in the streets were shocked at what had happened. They could not believe that someone would be aggressive to those who come to help them. The insane woman kept trying to light up her lighter and everyone told me to leave right away because I was still in danger. Finally, she gave up and ran away. The children came up to me and asked if I was feeling okay. Strangely, I was not afraid nor angry. I don’t think that I was in a state of shock. I am not even sure that I felt my life was in danger. The children advised me to go home and wash off the alcohol. It was good idea and I told them that I will be back tomorrow.
Some people would say that prayers of the saints protected me last night. I would like to think that this was true. However, I am also aware that there are many innocent people have died tragically last night in some cruel and unexpected way. I have read about people dying in similar circumstances before and on Monday, I could have been one of them. It was unprovoked and unforeseen. It was just someone with a mental illness doing something without a complete understanding of what was happening. I am glad that she wasn’t able to go through with her plans but she has marked my life nevertheless. She reminded me that mortality is something that could come to us at the moment we least expect. Despite what happened, it was a good night and bad things often happen in moments when everything seems to be going well. This is the state of our mortality. It is not something that we can avoid and it is definitely not something that we should fear.
I am going back to the same place today. I think that the lesson I learned from this incident was that I am happy doing what I am doing right now. I am not going to change it. I wasn’t feeling afraid, not because I am a brave man. Bravery is not necessarily a virtue in all situations. I could very well be insane myself and not see the danger. Maybe there might be some truth to this. However, mortality does not make any appointments with us. It just comes and I would like to continue to do what I am doing now when the time comes for me to surrender to my own mortality.
Having said this, prayers for our protection are always welcome.