I drive through this intersection on a regular basis, almost once or twice a day. When I’m waiting at the stoplight to turn right, there is almost always someone standing on the corner, panhandling. Usually on the south side is a man with puffy eyes and a straight mouth, a little too relaxed, and his clothing is one of the worst hodge podges I’ve ever seen on a homeless man. Recently he wore a tattered santa clause hat and had a new sign. It said Merry Christmas, under the scrawl begging for help. Yesterday another man stood there: his crooked cardboard sign advertised that he was willing to work even while reaching into car windows to accept the few bits of change we handed out.
I told a friend recently I might start carrying paper bags in my car stuffed with instant oatmeal packets, ramen noodles and a pack of cigarettes. I might start when I have a job and I can afford the ridiculous tobacco prices. But in the meantime, I keep trying to scrounge coins from my pants pockets and the seats of my car and the pavement of parking lots. It isn’t much, but I think sometimes it’s just the help of being noticed, and not ignored.
Tonight as I drove home from Castle Rock I went through this intersection. It’s been a rough day. I have slept walk through most of it: I dozed off while typing an email this afternoon. I spent two hours rambling to a friend and then feeling guilty that I talk so much. I shaped up some dreams and found them to be impossibly hard to accomplish.* I had driven right past Nick’s house while in Castle Rock and a little piece of me ached. But I pulled up to this intersection and I had finally remembered my change, pushed into my jeans this morning before I left the house. It had been dark for hours. But still there stood a figure on each side of the street, and I angled my car to the furthest right of the three lanes. I had the heater on full blast and my feet were still cold. As the lonely waif wandered up the exit ramp toward my car I struggled for my coins. Shaking with anxiety that the light would blink red to green before I was ready, I unbuckled, held both feet down hard on the clutch and brake and I hoisted my hips up so as to more easily rummage the tiny pockets. With the light on in my car, I managed to piece together barely a dollar.
I rolled down the window and she scrambled towards me, all aware of the chances that hte light would soon change. She reached in as I leaned over the seat, holding out my coins, the tiny offering towards her chilly night. She smiled at me and I stumbled over my words “I’m sorry, it’s not much, it’s all I have though.” And it is true. I don’t function on cash. I use credit, and I never have anything to give people. But she smiled at me, widely as I held her thinly gloved hand and she blessed me.
She had gaps in her teeth and the ones that remained had yellowed beyond repair. Her face was worn but the creased lines deeply woven into a spidery web crinkled in gratefulness as I apologized for the size of the tiny gift. “No honey, God bless you,” she said with fervency that I saw in her blurry eyes and felt in the way she squeezed my finger tips. “Merry Christmas,” she said as the light flickered up ahead and the long trail of cars began pulling away.
“Stay warm,” I mumbled. A few moments I was turning the corner, heater on, radio turned up and window tightly closed.
MGMT was pounding through my speakers. Kids, by MGMT. In the background you can hear children screaming on a playground. “You were a child, crawlin’ on your knees toward it, makin’ Mama so proud…” I could have cried, I think I actually would have if I hadn’t cried every last tear in the wee hours this morning.
That woman was once a baby. She was swaddled and someone laughed over her with delight. Many years ago a mother kissed her pink toes and tickled her chin and blew raspberries on her belly. She was pink and round and smooth and she laughed over simple things like lights and shapes and peek-a-boo. She wore footie pajamas instead of heavy boots with worn out toes and peeling soles. Someone held her close while she screamed the night she cut her first teeth that would someday fall out–and never really be permanently replaced. Someone wished good things for this woman, when she was a babe, new and full of opportunity. She was treasured and teased and she watched the Christmas lights go up and she stood in awe at the beauty of the glowing tree, and she fingered the bright paper on presents while dreaming what lay inside. She had tiny fingers without dirt under the nails a smile that wasn’t tired and an easy laugh.
How did you get here?
And how can you bless me for a few pennies and wish me Merry Christmas while I go on my way in a warm car to a free home and my choice of goat cheese or spinach artichoke dip? How can you be pleased with my pennies when I ought to give you so much more?
Woman, where did the world do you wrong and what hurt did you suffer that brought you so low?
Do you know that Jesus is coming? Last night, in the eclipse, the moon turned red and Ghena quoted the prophecy: the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.* Do you know, Woman, that he’s coming? He comes like a baby, like you once were: sweet and innocent, fragile and unaware of the pain of the world.
But he wears your pain, he hears your quiet fears breathed in silence because, he like you, was not always a babe. And he, like you, knew all the injustices and all the sorrows of the world. But he is coming again. Last night the world turned into winter at the solstice and the earth eclipsed the moon and we remembered that he is coming back in power and might and glory and he can save you from the wretched corner of 225 and Parker.
Do you know? Have you heard?
Woman, have you heard the angels sing?
*Acts 2.20-21 ESV