By Ron Tibbetts
I don’t even know her. I must admit I have seen her around, she may even have come to our dinners for the homeless on occasion, but I don’t know her. Our chance encounter this morning changes all of that though. I know she is 25 years old, I know she is thinner than she should be, I know she is an addict, and there isn’t much doubt she is mentally ill.
I know she is bright just by her choice of words, I know she has a cute little pixie look to her face and I know she is starved for someone to care for her despite who she is, where she is and even despite the history of wrong decisions that might have brought her to this day, a prostitute.
I know she hates men. Not all men but the kind of men who use her for her body, the kind of men who see her as nothing more that a sexual outlet, a human being meant only to be used and then discarded. And I know that in 25 years she has learned to distrust, to live hopeless, and to accept addiction, abuse, rape, prostitution and homelessness.
I know she is difficult, perhaps impossible to deal with at times. She is confrontational, a straight shooter not holding back on what she feels, what she sees, and she shares with street fluent language the truth about what she is certain of. It has only taken a few minutes, in this brief encounter to know she is hard beyond her 25 years, skeptical beyond the waves in her long brown hair. Behind the childlike face, with eyes that sparkle is learned deception, abuse, self interest and a lifetime of experience that should, and has, torn away the child inside and left behind a broken and tattered woman.
I have given her no more that one hour of my precious time. Time better spent in a much more productive effort, but she has had that hour of my life. Those 60 minutes that have shaken my heart, she is younger than my daughter, she has disquieted my mind, her story is the story of so many in her shoes, part fiction, mostly reality and it is the reality that is beyond my understanding. 60 minutes that have left me staggered even if only a part of what she shares is true, my legs weaken, my heart cries.
We have shared this time, God’s time, together and I can hope for only one more minute as she begins to gather up her belongings, a blanket, a pillow, a half empty bottle of vodka and a candy bar, and secrets all this away into a tattered and dirty pillow cover. She is ready to move on, to travel over the hill to the “Common”, Boston Common, and to fill her day full of the distractions that will keep her confronting her reality. Those things that will see that rather that hope, she will see despair, rather that promise, emptiness, rather that a sense of joy that she has lived through another night, only the agony of the tormented day ahead.
It is still early in the day, perhaps only 7:30 am. The morning sun begins to reach the narrow street upon which we have met, this child of God and I. The long shadows of the buildings around us begin to creep back, away from the middle of the street, and as this day in the city begins she, in a brief frantic moment, decides our time has ended. She dismisses me with “well I have things to do, I have to go now” I say only “I understand.”
And I do. I understand that we are so very different she and I. I understand that I cannot begin to know the void between us. I have never been resident where she lives each day only an outsider looking in.
I wish I could say “God bless you” or “be safe today”. I wish I could speak those words that would have her have turn away from the life she is living and begin a journey toward resurrection, I really wish I could, but for today that is not to be. She turns quickly toward the steep hill between her and the Common, and in a moment, almost running, she is off. She turns her head over her shoulder, looks back and shouts to me “thank you, God bless you, see you soon I hope, bye-bye” and she waves.
Not waiting for me to reply or even to return a wave, she turns her head forward and focuses on the hill ahead, the hill between her and “her people” the people outdoors.
This is why I do what I do, serve among the poor. This is why I step outside the doors of the church and onto the streets of the city. This is why I risk 60 minutes, one minute at a time, to seek the truth of our world but more importantly the truth of our Creator. I step out to be reminded that we are a world where brokenness is real. We are a world filled with imperfect, fractured and abused people who struggle to make it through the day. It is in this world that our Creator calls us to live. To live out the example of Jesus, to be healers, hope givers, comforters, friends, brothers and sisters.
I step outside the doors of the church to be staggered, to be stunned, to be made fully aware of the struggles of this world where we are called to be. I step outside keenly aware that I will be unsettled and I trust that God will be present in that storm. I think of the dismissal at the end of the liturgy, the time of sending out, of God’s saying to us “I call to you”- “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”.
Thank you, God bless you, see you soon I hope, bye-bye.
As once again I go.
The Rev. Ron Tibbetts, a deacon, is executive director of Neighborhood Action Inc., in Boston.