“For now, we are pilgrims… Do not hurt anyone, in body or in spirit. As far as you are able, help everyone.”
~~St. Augustine, The City of God: 14
Holy Saturday, 3/26/05
It’s a cold night, and raining. When I got up this morning, I looked forward to spending the day curled up on the sofa with a good book, drinking mug after mug of steaming hot tea — it was just the sort of day for it.
It was not to be, however. I had cleaned out my linen closet the previous evening and had come up with a stack of bedspreads I could live without, plus a bag of throw pillows from my daughters’ childhoods which I had been unable to discard because my mother had sewn them. Once a pack-rat decides to part with something, she should get it out of the house as soon as possible.
In the late afternoon, I loaded my car and drove downtown. For weeks I’d been trying to find the ‘Tent City’ under a bridge near downtown where a group of street people had made a stable community. It was there that the Texas Department of Transportation showed up from time to time with bulldozers and dump trucks and scooped up the tents, cardboard shelters and belongings of the residents, depositing them in the city landfill. I decided to look for it once again and take the blankets there.
At an intersection near where I thought the camp might be, I saw a woman standing on the sidewalk in front of a row of boarded-up buildings, so I pulled over to ask her for directions. “I’m looking for the homeless camp,” I said out my car window. “I am!” she replied cheerfully, “Me and Patrick have a house we’ve built on this lot,” she said and pointed to a vacant lot next to the buildings, where a set of brick stairs led upward but beyond which there appeared to be nothing. “Do you need any blankets?” I asked her. “Oh, yes! It’s so cold, we could really use them.”
There was something lighthearted in her spirit, and she was nicely dressed, with her hair tidily done. Well-dressed as she was, I wondered if she could really be homeless. “I’m Karen,” I said, and asked, “Is it just you and Patrick?” “I’m Candace! Well, there’s two men that live next to us, have their own place.” She had a look of disdain on her face, didn’t seem to think much of her neighbors. “Will you share this stuff with them?” I asked. “We can use it all,” she said, as I handed her the bedspreads out the window. “I have some small pillows. Do you want them? Some of them are torn, but they’re clean.” “Oh, yes! We’ve built ourselves a house, me and Patrick,” she repeated, “and I can use them to decorate.” I handed her the bag. “Oh, thank you, ma’am, thank you!” She was so enthusiastic, so sweet. We parted company, and I drove away. Little did I know at that time that their house was made of bits of tin, cardboard and peeling plywood.
After I’d driven a couple of blocks, I remembered I’d brought along a bag of Cadbury crisp chocolate Easter eggs, and something prompted me to turn back and offer them to her. I pulled up beside the Stairway Going Nowhere, grabbed the candy, got out of the car and mounted the steps. It was getting dark, and, at the exact moment that I reached the top of the steps and peered out into the gathering gloom, thinking suddenly that this was not the safest part of town to be getting out of my car and roaming around protected only by chocolate, a man rushed at me from the shadows!
In alarm, I turned to bolt, now quite sure I was living in one of those nightmares where your arms and legs flail in slow motion but you don’t actually move. Then Candace appeared beside the man, and I could suddenly breathe again. “This is Patrick!” she said proudly, and I could understand her pride. Patrick was a very nice-looking young man, and quite well-spoken. “Oh, thank you so much, ma’am, for the things you gave us. We can really use them,” he said with genuine warmth. We talked for a few moments, and I returned to my car and drove away, as the wind picked up and a bitter rain set in.
Even then, I felt there was something special in this encounter.
[to be continued]