Journey to Enlightenment

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Man with the Broken Leg

The time is long overdue to tell this true personal story, where I was given a profound lesson in humility.
Early this year we made our first visit to Egypt.
We visited our good Brother friends the Coptic Monks, who live simply, in a cave community way out in the desert.

We occupied a large Guest Cave, sleeping comfortably using padded mattresses on raised rock platforms, with the sparkle of thousands of tiny crystals embedded in the rock above. There was another lesser Guest Cave further along the escarpment, used mainly for occasional pilgrims who visited to renew themselves and pay respect to the Holy Spirit of the place.

I noticed someone there, who was clearly from outside the community.
He was a short spindly, wizened Egyptian man, maybe in his late 50’s.
He had the demeanour of someone like a farmer perhaps, who had put on his Sunday suit to visit… the same one that had been taken from the closet perhaps a dozen times in as many years for such purpose. It was as if the worker-Presence reached beyond the tired crease in his city trousers, and the faded 60’s pattern of his nylon shirt.

If his clothes and his persona seemed odd and out of place, in this savage, beautiful wilderness, there was something else about him more obvious that caught my attention.
He was limping badly; holding his left leg as stiff as a board as he walked about in obvious discomfort. He looked extraordinarily out of place!

I asked one of our Monk friends to tell me about him.
He explained, the man lived in a community many miles from there.
He apparently made visits a couple of times a year to the Monastery.
He always seemed to catch a lift to the nearest roadway, at least 2 to 3 miles across the difficult terrain of the desert. He always opted to walk the last long stretch off road himself, as the start of a sort of Soul-cleansing exercise for himself.
He always felt he had to give best respect to the Monks by dressing (wholly inappropriately for the desert,) in his finest clothes.

There was a difference this trip.
The man had broken his leg in 2 places.

In Egypt… unless you have the means and wherewithal to afford the best medical treatment for anything serious, and if you are one of the sub-class, you do the best you can under the circumstances. For this man, the best was a simple splint, and a mile of bandage, binding his leg from top to bottom.
He had actually managed to get across the desert, on foot, in his state, just to merge with the Holiness on offer there! I was utterly amazed.

I thought I had seen everything! But there the story was far from over.
A few days later we had completed our work and reluctantly it was time to leave.
Our Four-wheel drive vehicles were all loaded. Our Police escorts had taken their seats inside. We said our goodbye until the next time, and off we set.

I have to tell you that when you see those film shots of vehicles in desert terrain, moving at high speed, and performing like a bucking raw stallion, they are not faked at all.
The sand and rock is uncompromising. It threatens to suck the tyres of the vehicle to the axles in one section, rip them out in another, or catapult them and the vehicle above into the air in the next few yards.
Momentum is the key. You keep your foot down, grab tight, brace yourself and pray!!
If you are lucky, your head will not bang against the roof or windows on the way.

We had travelled less than half the distance to the road, when we looked up ahead in astonishment. There was the man with the broken leg, hobbling impossibly along through the sand and the blazing heat, still wearing his Sunday suit, and carrying nothing but a plastic supermarket bag.

We stopped the Jeeps and did an immediate reshuffle. The man would sit in the back seat with me. He had to ‘lead’ his stiff broken leg to rest along the foot well, and was satisfied to perch half on the seat and wedged between that and the driver’s backrest.

We drove on and managed only to drive about 30 yards over an enormous sand mound.
We took off into the air and landed with a bump and a loud scream of pain from our new passenger. He had nearly passed-out from the shock. It took many minutes for him to recover any composure at all.

I suggested a solution, which was adopted. I reached my arm across from the nearside back seat to the driver’s backrest.
This formed something of a cradle.
I draped spare clothing on my arm for extra padding.
The man sat fully on the back seat, elevated his broken leg at about a 45 degree angle, to then rest it on my arm. This then acted as a shock absorber, and we were able to get to the road with as little pain to him as was possible.

At the road there was going to be a delay while we waited for our new Police Escort to arrive. This was convenient because it took a while to help the man extract himself and settle at the roadside. Everyone was a bit preoccupied to sort the paperwork etc. so I stayed with the him. He had hobbled over to the roadside and flopped down to sit and rest. I called our guide to translate for a moment. I was concerned because the man had no transport arranged. He had neither water nor provisions with him, and the police and locals clearly had no cares about it.
The man intended to just sit there and wait for the very occasional passing vehicle, hoping to get a lift. My heart went out to him as I saw the real pain he was in.

I spoke to him using gesture. I raided our own store for spare bottles of water to give to him. He showed embarrassing deep gratitude to me, and downed half a bottle immediately.. I caught a glance in his eyes and realised he had seen the huddle of our group as they had been lighting cigarettes.
I got the feeling he wanted one too, but had none.
I only had a plenty of supply of Rolling tobacco, so I rummaged and was able to give him a pouch, with rolling papers and a spare cigarette lighter. I rolled a first one for us both, and I thought he was going to pass-out with excited humble gratitude, when he realised I meant him to have them and keep them.

For a moment I was actually embarrassed at his reaction, and the fuss he was making.
Our Guide came over again to see what was happening.
He translated the obvious to me..
The man was humbled and overwhelmed at the kindness he felt was being given.

I instructed our Guide to translate back to the man, that it was I who had to thank him for the opportunity, because he had taught me a lesson in humility.
The man struggled to rise to his feet from the sand.
I helped steady him and he was weeping. He had nothing of value on him whatsoever, and he probably lived in poverty that I would never experience. But there was one thing that I learned he did consider valuable.

Around his neck there hung a battered tin badge showing the worn image of the late, Saintly Coptic Pope Kirellos (of miracles)
He balanced on his good leg, lifted the old string from his own neck, and placed this prize over mine.
I wept too, as I felt the crushing weight of his faith and the Power of his humble Spirit.
I have the badge beside me now as I type this.
It is never far away, and still mists my eyes as I remember.
I swear that the eyes of Pope Kirellos are watching me from the badge.
I will never forget.

The Man was truly blessed.
He had nothing....But he had everything!


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Ross-On-Wye, Herefordshire, United Kingdom
Just a Messenger.. Long term relationship.

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