Judy, my prayers are with you.
Judith was standing on the corner of SE 39th and Powell this morning. Petite and maybe sixty-five of age, she held a cardboard sign:
Need sleeping bag and food
God Bless You
A few belongings were arranged behind her feet as she stood there. The streetlight had turned red as I approached and I found myself right next to her.
Our eyes met briefly. Slightly sad, older eyes, pale blue. Her white hair was neatly brushed back and she told me in the look she wasn’t beaten.
The light changed and I went down the block and circled back. The day before I’d been in Fred Meyer’s with my sister – aisle 14. Another older lady brushed her cart past us, muttering fervently. After she passed me a very small tremulous wail escaped her and I turned around. She was shaking, obviously frustrated. I walked back and asked her if everything was all right – she’d lost her purse with her license, credit cards and a hundred bucks. She was on the edge of complete panic.
I got my sisters attention and sent her quickly to customer service while I stayed with that lady, telling her my name and that I had been an Army sergeant. Within a few minutes, as she tried to maintain stability, store management arrived to take over. I never got her name.
I walked back up to Judy on the corner and pressed a few dollars into her hand, asking what her name was. I learned Judith was from California, but had moved to Oregon four years ago to take care of her sister. Last fall Judith had had a stroke – slipping into a coma for four weeks. While she was in a coma, she said she heard the doctor saying to let her go; it’ll be a blessing for the poor soul. She walked out of the hospital a few weeks later with a four-wheel walker.
As we talked I kept my eyes direct with hers. I wanted her to know my humanity. I wanted her to feel connected. She was necessarily doing something no woman should have to do on this Earth – beg. The personal sacrifice she took, the humiliation of standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign asking for quarters at sixty-five – did not lessen her self-esteem. She told me that her first job was as a waitress making seventy cents an hour; then asked what I did. I told her I’d been a chef for a long time – but that I’d lost a marriage partly to never having nights, weekends and holidays; that I wasn’t doing it anymore. She asked what I was doing and I told her – I’m starting a business.
Judy – while I don’t share the same theological belief.. my prayers are with you, too. Thank you for blessing me today. Thank you for telling me how strong you are. I hope we meet again. I want to buy you a bourbon the next time we talk. Love, Jeff