Let's get real. Going to the Corner is not always easy. In fact, some weeks I do not want to go, and as I drive there, I wonder why I'm doing it. Sometimes, when I get there and park, and then open my car door and smell the body odor, I want to shut the door and drive away. Sometimes my heart is so heavy when I walk up to the homeless men and women gathered, I want to run and hide.
The first time I went to the Corner, I felt nervous excitement and fear. I didn't really want to shake dirty hands. But I did. I started keeping—and still keep—hand wipes in my car for after I leave, and I clean my hands with the wipes as I drive away.
Since that first day on the Corner, I have shaken countless dirty hands. I have also held some hands of people who are hurting. One sunny day, I said hello to a woman sitting on the porch whom I had never seen before. I had barely said, "Hello. How are you?" when she burst into tears. She put her face into her hands and held her face as she cried.
"My car was stolen," she said.
The first thought that went through my head was
I'm confused. This woman has a car—and she's homeless?
So I started gently wading in.
"What happened? How did your car get stolen?" And here, you must know, I only got pieces of the story. She was shoulder-shaking crying the whole time, and I'm not sure how the events unfolded exactly because I only got parts of the story, but here's what she told me . . .
"Some women I thought were my friends starting beating me up" (she had the bruises to prove it) "and then they forced me into my car, and I thought they were taking me somewhere to kill me. But my car got a flat tire, and so they let me out and I got away. If my car hadn't gotten a flat tire, I think they would have killed me."
All right. Following you so far. But you are weeping about your car?—not about the fact that you could have died?
"I just got a call from an impound site that my car is in Waxahachie—and now it has two flat tires. I don't get paid until next Saturday, so I'm going to have to pay to get out there, for the tires to be replaced, and the impound fee for 10 days."
She continued, "Everything I own is in that car. All of my stuff is there. They took all of my stuff." She repeated this over and over again, that they had taken everything she owned. It was as though she was more upset about all of her stuff being lost than the bruises I saw up and down her arms. I did not understand. She started crying again, "It's too late for me to go to the shelter, so I have no place to stay tonight and no stuff either."
So, at this point, I had gathered a few things:
- She owned a car,
- Everything she owned was in that car,
- The car had been stolen by women she trusted,
- The car had been impounded far away,
- She could not pick the car up for over a week because she did not have the money to get there, the money to pay to get the car out, or the money to fix the tires,
- She was so upset that all of her money would have to go to that, and now
- She had no place to stay the night.
At that point, our friend Jonathan who works for CitySquare was involved in the conversation too, and he offered to walk her over to the shelter to see if she could get a bed—and if they could help her out—even though it was so late. Before we left, I offered to pray for her, and I grabbed one of her hands with my right hand and put my left arm over her shoulder, and as she wept, I prayed for her.
the path between the Corner & the shelter
Then, Jonathan and I journeyed through the field to the shelter with our sweet, distraught friend. At the shelter, they not only knew and recognized her, but they also let her in even though it was far past check-in time. They offered to take her to a battered women's shelter as well, seeing as she had been beaten up pretty badly. She declined going there.
As they led her back, she stopped and gave me a big hug. I told her I would be praying for her.
~ ~ ~
I still don't have a box for this woman or for her story. I don't have a box for her owning a car or for all of her stuff being lost in her car. I really didn't think homeless people had cars—but she was certainly homeless (they knew her at the shelter), and she had a car, and she had lots of stuff in her car. AND she was homeless. She stayed at the shelter. Yet she had a car. I assumed that if you had a car you also had a place to stay the night. Not so.
I am okay without my boxes—I think. Going to the Corner every week requires my setting down my old boxes and entering this world open . . .
Really, my fear that I talked about at the beginning of this post, related to going to the Corner some weeks, is not about the smell or about shaking dirty hands—that's all a cover-up for what I'm actually afraid of. Much like this woman's weeping about the car and her stuff was a cover up for her deepest pain, my real fear comes from having no box for what goes on at the Corner.
While I have nice boxes for people with homes, my worldview gets turned upside down when I hear homeless men and women's stories and watch them weep, hold their hands, and pray for them when they are undone.
I keep going to the Corner because I love them. I love them because they are beautiful people with the same fears and struggles as me. I love them because they are hurting and willing to share their hurts. I love them because they lay out their brokenness for all to see. They don't get to take showers as regularly as we do. They don't get to change clothes multiple times a day like we can. They don't get to eat morning, noon, and night every day. They live their need—without having to say a word. And when they do speak, and like this woman entrust me with their tears, I consider it the highest privilege.
You see, life isn't box-y, even though we make it so.
It is the hardest thing in the world for me, Mrs. Type A, to lay down her boxes. But oh, how I want to! What freedom is there!
I want to live open.