The first time we spoke was on a tram to St Kilda.
For the first two months of our relationship, a lot of our deeper conversations were on the number 16. Perhaps it is the melting pot of public transport that really excites Him – or renders me restless enough to ask questions and peer into strangers’ faces.
Our first conversation was about need. It wasn’t a conversation like something I might have had with my mother, or myself – that was the chill of it – He wasn’t me, and yet he existed, as a voice within me. I was shocked and a little afraid. If it is within your control, you don’t need to fear it – if it is just some conscience screaming, you can learn to suffocate it. But this was a still, small voice. This was a magnet. He showed me someone in need, and then He told me how I could meet that need. I had never looked at the world in such a light, before. It was the beginning of a much deeper conversation, one that continues today.
One weekday, a few months later, I left the house with a burden. I had a fifty-dollar note in my pocket, and I was informed by that magnetic little voice that it was not mine to keep. This felt very foolish, but I was aware of the glory of foolishness by this stage.
On my first tram that morning (the 16), I was ready to ditch the burden. I kept my eyes open, listening for the yes. A scruffy looking man came along the tram, wild-eyed and lanky ‘Two dollars for a can of coke, miss?’ Was this him? Should I just give it to him? He sat at the back, chatting away to himself.
Go sit with him.
I meandered down the tram, trying not to look suspicious. We ended up talking for twenty minutes, about the hostel in which he lived, and the people that come to visit him. He told me he was a very good runner, and had won many ribbons. Eventually he got off the tram, asking me emphatically to drop by for a cup of tea one day. He gave me his address and smiled.
I had waited and waited for some indication, but the money wasn’t his.
Later that night, on the other side of town, I was heading to the cinema on another old tram. The light was leaving, people in suits piled up against one another. I had almost forgotten the day’s mission. I was thinking of art and boys and clouds.
About ten minutes in, a young woman stood up in the middle of the tram, distraught.
“Has anyone picked up a wallet? It has a fifty-dollar food voucher in it. I really need it.”
She was almost crazed in her desperation, about to break down.
The voice hummed.
There you go.
I played with the fifty dollars in my pocket. It took me a number of stops to gather the courage to edge down the back of the tram towards her. I was freaking out. She was thin and grubby. Her hair was pulled back tight, and she wore an oversized jersey. There was such pathos about her posture.
“Have you found the wallet?” I asked.
I handed her the money from my pocket, not sure what to say. It felt illegal. She looked at me strangely, then just hugged me, out of nowhere, heavy in relief. She told me that the wallet had four hundred and fifty dollars in it, and she was about to go and find some accommodation, before it had disappeared. Her breathing normalised, and she nodded at me, teary.
I sat down nearby, buzzing. The man beside me whispered ‘God bless you’ as he stepped off the tram, and I realised, as he said it, that I was a fraud. I had parted with very little, really. That day, I’d been given an envelope of a week’s worth of per diems. A few hundred dollars. It was in my pocket, in a little plastic bag. I’d given only a fraction of both what she actually needed, and what I could have given. I had the resources to meet the need completely, and out of self-preservation, I didn’t.
The voice pushed me. Pulled me. Battered my heavy pocket. As I got off the tram, I gave her everything. I think I said something disposable like ‘It’s going to be okay’. I don’t know. I could hardly stand for shaking. She looked me in the eyes and asked ‘Are you sure?’
I waved her off, embarrassed but relieved.
I had no idea where I had gotten off. I found my way to the cinema, aware of every part of my body. Maybe I did need that money. I would miss it. And yet, right then, I didn’t. I felt so light. I thought of the girl in a bed, somewhere, perhaps for the first time that week, and I thanked the little voice, for letting the money find her.
The very next morning, I got on the 16 again. It was crowded, and I stared out the window, sort of detached from it all – I was still replaying the events of the previous night. I had enough credit on my tram card to at least get where I needed, and a deep contentment was sustaining me. I was listening to a song, lost in it.
We pulled to a stop, and to my amazement, the girl – the very same girl from five suburbs away – stepped onto the tram. I blinked. It was definitely her. Same jersey. What was she doing so many kilometres away? She could have climbed onto any tram, at any time of day. But here we were again. Had she come to find me? I had in my mind that she might be some angel. It was some test – had I passed? The voice was giving nothing away. She came towards me. I opened my mouth to greet her, smiling, but nothing came out. She looked at me without recognition. It was as though she had never seen me before.
Looking me straight in the eyes, she asked “Do you have any spare change?”
I stared at her. What?
She searched my face, blankly waiting. I shook my head.
I didn’t have any spare change. I had nothing left in my wallet.
She moved onto the next person.
The voice sung me a song, laughing and crying for the fate of man. It wasn’t a trick, it wasn’t a test. It wasn’t even a lesson about the broken drug and alcohol culture of Melbourne’s needy, or the ‘correct’ ways in which to give help. None of that.
In that moment, I started the slow road to understanding something of the nature of God.
He cradles the humour of the heart. He sacrifices the ego. Nothing is sacred, nothing is original. Everything is meaningless. And yet, with blind trust, we must never stop stretching out our hands to give more. It is our honour and privilege, to give more. The gift is to us.
To understand the pain and love of God, I would need to give everything I treasure away, watch the gift be ignored and discarded, then do it all over again. I would have to love passionately, unnoticed and unrequited, for millions of years. I would have to circle humanity like the moon, out of reach, waiting for my beloved to recognise the sound of my voice. I would have to die at the hand of the one I loved, to give them the world and all that’s beyond it.
The voice did not fall silent. It never left, after that first time. It is like a single note playing forever through the front of my mind. It is a note held down, like a line drawn in time. A note sustained in anticipation, so that the musician can switch to an alarm, to a bugle call or a sonata, whenever He sees the need.