I heard about her passing in the news, like almost everyone else. She died here in Prince Albert but Marlene Bird’s life and death was so tragic it made national headlines.
She and I had a fragile introduction at Tapestrama, a lovely multicultural festival with ethnic foods and performances held in our community each Fall. My husband went to socialize with the locals while I elected to sit at our table at the back of the room and watch Ukrainian folk dancers performing a challenging Cossack routine on the brightly lit stage.
I was tapping my foot to the music when a sharp smell of urine and stale cigarettes invaded my nostrils. My instinct was to quickly pull my chair in the opposite direction but when I turned I saw a ragged man in a toque coaxing a wheelchair into the space next to me. In it sat a legless woman with matted hair wearing a ball cap and dark glasses. Though I didn’t know anything about her it was easy to see the hopeless, homeless tragedy of her life.
“Hi, my name is Marlene Bird,” she said stretching out her hand. “Do you mind if we sit with you?” There was something so civil and decent in the way she spoke, it tenderised my response. I shook her hand and she introduced me to Patrick Lavallee, the man commandeering her wheelchair.
“Have you eaten?” I probed.
“No,” they both replied.
“We just came in here to warm up,” explained Lavallee, “Its cold out there.”
“Then may I have the honor of buying you supper?” I asked
They accepted and opted for Chinese food and a soda pop from one of the nearby vendors. We enjoyed each others company for about half an hour while they ate. I can’t remember exactly what we talked about except that it was lighthearted. Marlene hadn’t lost her sense of humor. “I’m wearing these “cool” glasses because I’m visually impaired,” she jested.
Before they left I packed a few extra’s for them to take. When I bent down to hug her, Marlene pressed me tightly against her ravaged body. “Thank you so much” she whispered as she kissed my cheek.
“No, thank YOU,” I said choking on my words.
As Patrick wheeled Marlene towards the door, I saw my husband across the room with a puzzled look on his face. He went to shake Patrick’s hand and leaned over to hug Marlene.
“Do you know who that was?” he asked when he returned to our table
Marlene’s life, I would learn, began with a theme common to many Aboriginal people’s lives. Residential school, abuse, violence and addiction. In 2014 Marlene was living on the street when she was brutally attacked, sexually assaulted, hacked to pieces and set on fire in an alley. The nature of the crime was so heinous and her survival so miraculous it made national news, as did her struggle to forgive her perpetrator.
The assault nearly blinded Marlene. My judgments nearly blinded me. Through her broken and shattered exterior, I experienced God’s grace. A gift far greater than I had given her.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me. Verily I say unto you, if you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto to me” Matthew 35; Holy Bible
Mary-Ann Kirkby is a Hutterite Author and Professional Speaker. Her national best-selling books, Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen, and I Am Hutterite, are available at www.polkadotpress.ca. Contact Mary-Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook @ www.facebook.com/maryannkirkbyhutterite
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