I knew exactly who he was when I saw him through the window of the subway, which was stopped somewhere between Brooklyn and 34th and Herald Square in Manhattan. He was wearing a red shirt, dirty, tan and had greasy gray-black hair. His left hand clutched his back in pain, but I could already tell he was in discomfort by the way he was walking on the platform: slow and deliberate, the only kind of steps that could support his crooked body as he grimaced.
I knew who he was because I had already heard the story of his miracle about a year ago when an elderly man named Marty asked me if I believed. I’m not sure he would have told me the story if I had said No. But it seemed to me, now and at the time, that the only reason he asked me in the first place was because he already knew the answer to his vague question. Him and I shared a secret knowledge: given the chance, most people will choose Yes over No any day. And I said Yes.
So he told me the story of the crooked man’s miracle as time ticked away at Barnes and Noble on a lazy someday afternoon. He was a friend of Marty’s, long-lost and not seen for years until they attended a religious event at Madison Square Garden and just so happened to run into each other. The raggedy man insisted they have dinner together despite a reluctant Marty, who at the time did not believe in much of anything. He recalled that everything that day had seemed like a drag, including his raggedy friend who was limping, disabled from some previous event, probably the war. When Marty offered to help the man down the stairs of the restaurant, his friend outspokenly declined and said rather feverishly that he wasn’t crippled. Marty backed off and they walked to their table and shared a meal together.
Afterwards, they walked back up from the downstairs restaurant and said their goodbyes before parting ways on the streets of New York City near Penn Station. As Marty gave his old friend one last look down the street, he noticed he wasn’t limping anymore, not struggling in the slightest bit. “Hey, wait a minute,” Marty called out. But his friend kept walking. “Hey! Wait a minute!” he shouted again down the street. His friend turned around even though he appeared to be in a hurry to somewhere else. “You’re not limping anymore,” said Marty.
Don’t you believe in miracles? his friend asked before walking away, briskly, and as healthy as could be.
It was such a brief moment when I saw the man on the subway platform struggling in pain. As the F Train pulled away, I envisioned him making his way up to the city streets when the sunshine grew, basking in the warmth for just a second, that’s all it would take, before he walked away, back straight and legs strong. Just strolling along. That’s what I wished for this man, the prototype from the character in Marty’s story. After all, I had said Yes.
Before Marty told me this story, he was flipping through a book of military airplanes. I never asked him if he was a pilot but I wonder now if he was. He waited nearly 20 minutes before he finally decided to tell me the story, and by his abrupt introduction, I could tell he needed to tell someone, and I just so happened to be in the right place at the right time. That’s how things typically tend to go when they are meant specifically for you. Afterwards, he gave me a parting gift, two medallions, one of Jesus and one of St. Benedict, that had been blessed some time ago. They’re light and made of aluminum, an element highly-resistant to corrosion, the gradual destruction of material by chemical reaction with its environment.
That detail means more to me now than it did when I heard the story, and knowing my own certainly helps too. The miracle wasn’t in the message of the narrative, it was in the palm of my hands.