In January of 2003, I was once again going through another spiritual crisis. Though I had very strong leanings towards paganism still, I was finding myself becoming more and more obsessed with Catholicism. I had started collecting rosaries as a hobby sometime earlier, and more and more I was finding the rosary a source of comfort.
This was a troubled time for me in many respects; I was still getting over a series of assaults that had happened whilst working as a Station Assistant on London Underground, and my relationship with an abusive boyfriend was spinning towards its inevitable trainwreck conclusion. It is perhaps understandable that this would herald another spiritual crisis, and this time I was swinging as far away from paganism as I could get – the Roman Catholic Church.
I had attended a couple of Masses at a Benedictine community the previous July, and now I was seriously considering RCIA – the first steps towards baptism and becoming a Catholic.
But it didn’t last. It seemed the moment people knew I was looking into becoming a Catholic, I was expected to be an apologetic for the Church – and I had none of the answers; not even the basic training of a catchumen to back me up and bolster my arguments. I became disheartened and questioned why I was doing it in the first place; and by October I was back to spiritual limbo. Life had been tumultuous and full of upheavals; I’d started a new job, moved back to my hometown, and found a new boyfriend who was resolutely an atheist. There was enough to contend with in my day-to-day life. So it was quietly dropped again.
It reared its head again on the night the Pope died; Saturday the 2nd of April, 2005. I had a growing, unquellable urge to go to Westminster Cathedral – so shortly after 11pm, I did just that.
Something in common to all of my swings towards Christianity had been the desire for some sort of word or sign, some proof of the existance of God; and as I travelled towards Westminster that night I was certain that I was finally going to receive the sign I had been waiting for.
It came in the form of a Polish woman. She came into the Cathedral crying, and collapsed sobbing when she knelt to genuflect in front of the altar. There were two nuns and a priest sitting in front of me who ignored her. A woman in the front row eventually went to talk quietly to her before coming to speak to the priest, who then – reluctantly, it seemed – went to speak to the woman. He led her to a seat at the far left of the front pew, spoke to her briefly, then somewhat stiffly patted her on the shoulder befor walking away. That’s when I got up and offered her the tissue, with the assurance that it was crumpled but clean.
All she wanted was someone to talk to; someone who was not afraid to let her cry. It seems English people just don’t know what to do when someone shows emotion. Maybe they were afraid to get involved; or perhaps they just assumed she would want to be left alone. I’ve always found it hard to just sit idly by whilst someone cries however. I can’t ignore it. I have to do something about it; try to make things better somehow.
So I hugged her, held her hand, prayed with her, and listened to her talk in hushed whispers and heavily-accented English of how the Pope had waved to her when she was 14. To her, it was as if her father had died. She told me of how her grandmother, who was the same age as the Pope, was in hospital very ill; and she was very afraid that now the Pope has finally died that her grandmother would feel she was ready to go too. Afterwards, on the steps of the Cathedral, we exchanged names and phone numbers. Her name was Agnieszka, though she told me to call her Aga (never Agnes!); she called me an angel, sent to her just when she needed one. I just smiled and said I simply happened to be in the right place at the right time.
I hadn’t had the sign I had expected; no bright lights or choirs of angels. I did not hear the voice of God; I had no wonderous vision. But there was perhaps a sign given after all… for Aga.
I never did call her back. I was too shy.