I see her sitting there everyday. Rain, shine, snow, wind, she’s there.
Her skin is dark, weathered, worn. Wisps of black-grey hair peek out from underneath her near thread-bare scarf, her long skirts gathered around her legs as she sits criss cross on the sidewalk under the tree. That big tree that leafs large in the summer, rains gold in the fall and stands tall and threatening in the winter. Some days she has no shoes; today she does.
She sits and rocks gently back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, one hand clutched to her chest. Eyes distant and empty and I wonder if she wishes she was anywhere but here? What is this city to her? Home? Hell?
When someone extends enough mercy to make some semblance of eye-contact with her, she begins her plea…I’ve never been able to discern what language she speaks. Is it German? Gypsy? Romanian? I really can’t tell.
With one leathery hand she reaches out to anyone who will look; with the other she gestures to her mouth. Her eyes telling a story most of us don’t even want to imagine.
Often times I make sure I carry something extra in my purse – an apple, a granola bar, something – so I can hand it to her. I don’t like to give money. You never know what they will do with it.
Day after day I walk past her…multiple times a day I see her face, hear her garbled speech. And sometimes… I just get angry.
I wonder is she homeless? Where does she go at night? She’s never there at night. Is she embroiled in some kind of panhandling scheme? And will her handlers beat her if she doesn’t gather enough today?
Maybe she’s just unable to get a job. Or maybe she’s just too lazy to work, I think to myself on my worst days; and I hate who I am in those moments.
One day I walked past her and smiled gently, but shook my head no. Not today, I try to say with my eyes.
Later I came by again, bringing lunch home for my husband and myself. It’s our little ritual once a week on a day all the kids are in school: we treat ourselves to a tasty lunch.
I heard her mumblings before I saw her, and something stirred in my soul.
But I kept walking.
I didn’t even look at her.
After I got home, I let myself admit what I was trying to ignore down on the street: I should have given her my meal.
Even later, I needed to go to the grocery store and I told myself that if she was still there, I would buy her some food.
She was still there. This time, she didn’t look at me. She was reclining comfortably on one elbow and smoking a cigarette.
A righteous wrath burned within me. Are you kidding me?? I knew it. I knew it was all a scam. I’m sure she has enough food at home and this is just something she does for the money. How dare she!
However, while in the store I couldn’t shake that stirring from before, so I bought a bag of whole-wheat mini-baguettes.
As I neared her place, I found myself wishing I knew what to say to her. But I didn’t. We don’t speak the same language. So I just smiled sheepishly, and handed her the bread. Not knowing if she truly needed it; not knowing if she really was wanting money instead; just not knowing.
She took it and bowed her head. And then she looked at the bread as if it were gold. She looked at it the same way I looked at my first baby the moment she was born. She sighed a sigh of relief and neither one of us needed words.
I struggle sometimes balancing the mantel of being a “responsible Christian” and not perpetuating an already broken system, and having compassion and extending grace I’m sure I would hope someone would extend to me were our places exchanged.
I still have my suspicions about the legitimacy of her plight, but the truth is I have no way of knowing. And so I smile, and any time I can, I give.
And now I know her name and I can’t help but wonder…what if God is using me to call her by name?
I tried to have a conversation with her yesterday, but we speak nothing close to the same language. However, the smile on her face when she sees me coming tells me that Love rarely needs words and Grace is a universal dialect. So I will continue to operate upon the advice given to me by a friend: when in doubt, give grace.
And I will walk even more humbly with my God because what He is showing me about Himself through this woman on the corner.