I was about to leave Starbucks last night and I decided that before I left, I would go speak with the homeless woman who had come in earlier with a loaded bicycle.
I struck up a conversation and I sat and listened to her tell me many stories for about 45 minutes about her travels and experiences she had and her faith and things she believed were impacting her life.
It wasn’t easy, necessarily, as many of her stories were very similar to other stories I’d heard from other homeless people: “The government has it in for me. It’s a conspiracy. A guy I was getting a ride from was wanted by the mafia.”
I sat and listened to everything she wasn’t telling me. She talked about her daughters and raising them and other things she experienced. She talked about her divorce. She made most of these as passing mentions, but as you listen to all the information around the nuggets, you begin to see a woman who in some fashion couldn’t handle the stresses of her early life. She and her brother had been in an orphanage while her parents were divorcing. She had been divorced and become a single mother in what I assume was the early 80′s with two girls. She had focused so hard on God that I think she lost the value of the relationship and found more comfort in a caretaker and thing-giver versus an actual father and companion.
She spoke many truths about her experiences, but she also told me many things that were fractures of truth. Her mind simply could not handle all she had experienced, nor could get past fully the experiences in her life. And so, for the past 14 or so years, Barbara Margaret _____ (I didn’t get her last name), has hiked, hitched and biked the roads of the greater southeast, traveling to and fro, getting by.
“… the least of these,” came to my mind, the verses where Jesus declares that showing love to those most in need, those who truly have no real options in plights rooted in their own minds, is showing love to him. But did I do it to score brownie points? No. I didn’t. If anything, I sat and listened and in gathering all I’ve heard, I can’t help but feel that in some small, tortuous way, she is purer than the rest of us.
You see, for all her inability to capture reality, to get a steady working job and build for herself some form of stable life, she tries to get by and understand what she can. She’s out there, staying alive, living on the blessings of others, probably collecting cans to trade when she can, and staying strong in a belief that God will see her through. Even in her lack of reality, her fear of the government coming for her, her fear of many things we didn’t discuss, she’s not giving up.
But what does that say about us? We who have a full grasp on reality of any faith, any politick, any lifestyle, and yet we squander our lives lying to ourselves and our loved ones because it’s difficult to be honest. It’s not emotionally nice to speak truth into drama, or lies, or trouble, or strife.
Barbara might not even know her fractures exist, but if she did, if someone told her and she truly believed them, how much might she give to have her sanity complete? And yet we waltz around with our own points of view and perceptions, ever capable of seeing truth, ever able to correct our thinking if we truly see the need, and yet she has no such option.
The other thing to consider is that for those who believe in Jesus and his message to help those in need, these are truly those in need here in the states. It’s not as simple as throwing them into a shelter or giving them the physical items they’ve lost. Homeless people are homeless because of something in their mind has left behind common coping mechanisms that allow them to operate in the current world. We can’t just restore the circumstances of life we credit as the sources of success. They are the results, not the sources.
I tried to pray with her, but she declined. Instead I offered her what money I had in my pockets (a blessing since I’d somehow suddenly collected all the cash from other pairs of pants into my shorts which I was wearing), and bid her a good evening. And then I prayed. And I thought.
I don’t think I have a singular lesson. Or even a defined lesson. I didn’t exactly offer her a place to stay the night. I’m not giver of the year. Maybe I can just offer the thought to my readers that we shouldn’t dismiss people because of their initial conditions. If nothing else, take some time and just listen. It doesn’t matter whether what they say is truth or merely their fractured perception of it, they’re human beings who need contact. Who need love. Who need interaction. I wish I could just solve her problems. But I can’t. I can contribute today, pray for tomorrow, and help as I can.
I hope you do, too. Not because I’m a holy example. I have my demons. So do you. It’s just about helping when we can, not being perfect to do so.