You know, when you have been doing something as long as Kathy and I have been doing this ministry work, you get to a point where you start to think that you have heard it all and seen it all. So, in the past three months, I have been proven wrong “in spades.”
The following two stories just shook me to my very
core. One has to do with stereotyping people, thinking
I correctly sized up a person only to be brought up
short. The other has to do with attempting to size up a
situation only to be humbled when I heard the story
behind the actions. This story grabbed me so deeply
that when I tried to tell a group of high schoolers at
Saint Rose of Lima parish I broke down in tears and
could hardly finish the story. When you finish reading
these stories, I think you will understand why we give
our address as the “Corner of Main and Misery.”
I was working the register at the LittleStore when I noticed a couple come through the front door. I said to myself, “These guys are going to need help.” I could tell by the dress and their hesitancy to make eye contact. “Hi,” I called out to them. They looked at me
and came up to the counter.
The woman, in a very quiet voice, asked, “Is this where you can get some food?” I nodded and asked for her photo ID. A look of fear came across her face. “I don’t have one; do you need one?” Our standard answer is yes, so I looked at her companion and was just about to ask if he had a photo ID when she blurted out, “He doesn’t have one. We are homeless.” It was then that I noticed
the bags they were carrying – old worn-out canvas bags with broken handles.
There we were standing in front of the counter, them
with heads down, not saying anything, and me
looking back at them trying to figure out just how to
handle the situation. “OK,” I said. “We can give you
emergency food, and I will count you as two
individuals rather than a couple; will that work?” Both
heads came up, and I could tell I just lifted a very
heavy weight from their shoulders.
I quickly put together a bag of food, usually about 12
pounds, a loaf of bread, and a pastry for each of them.
While I was doing this, I noticed the woman had
moved to the shelving where the Halloween items
were. When I finished, I gave the bags of food to the
man, and he started towards the door. “Come on,” he
snarled. She jumped as if she was being woken up. As
she hurried past me, she said, “There was a nice
Halloween costume over there. I wish I could get it
for my son.” BANG! It was as if she hit me over the
head with a baseball bat. l can remember thinking to
myself, “Kids, they have kids!” What a shock!”
“They are homeless; are the kids homeless, too?” I
thought. Before I could make a move to call them
back, they were out the door and hot-footing it down
Canterbury Street with all their treasures in beat-up
bags under one arm and our food bags under the
other. I was shaken to my core and in my head, I
heard the words of my prayer for them, “Hail Mary…”
My second story began with a “Hello Walter,” from
across the store – one of our regular customers. I
waved back and started towards the door when I
heard, “Wait!” There was something in the sound that
caught my attention right away. I froze, and she
hurriedly came over and whispered, “Can I talk to
“Sure,” I replied, but before I finished speaking,
she caught my arm and started to pull me into one of
the rows of furniture, so we would be alone. “I need a
new couch,” she said. “I found one. Can you help me
put it into my truck?” I began to notice her eyes, I
have seen them a number of times before; they were
fearful eyes. Her face was cast in sorrow, and she held
onto me tightly with one hand while the other was
waving about as if it had nowhere to rest itself.
In a whisper, she told me her story. “I need a new
couch because I cannot bear to even look at my
couch. My son who graduated a year ago from
college went out to a bar with friends. When he came
home, I noticed that he wasn’t acting right. He was
high, very high. So, I calmed him down and put him
on the couch with a blanket and waited for him to go
to sleep. I thought he just needed to sleep it off. I
went to bed. Two hours later I heard screams coming
from the living room, and I flew into the living room only to
see my son engulfed in flames. I grabbed a blanket
and put out the fire. He had awakened and gone into
the garage, got a can of gasoline, brought it into the
living room, poured it on himself, and struck a match.
There she stopped, motionless, and I could see she
was reliving this terrible event. Finally, she uttered,
“Thank God it didn’t burn his face.”
We stood holding on to each other without saying
another word. Eventually, she pulled away and said,
“I need a new couch, I can’t even stand to look at the
couch.” And without saying another word to each
other, I guided her up to the cash register, and she paid
for the couch. Then I helped her carry it out to her
truck and load it into the truck bed. She got into the
truck and drove away.
As I stood in our parking lot pondering what just took
place, words that I first used way back in 1982 came
to mind. “There is no such thing as an easy day.”
This line was added to the list one Saturday late in the
day after I just finished talking to a father who was a
volunteer and helped us in the community. He was
sitting next to me holding a picture of a beautiful
young woman, his daughter, when he said to me “I
just found out she has AIDS.” And in my despair, I said
to him “There is no such thing as an easy day.”
Every Sunday, we have our Zoom rosary, and I always
pray for the mother and her son, and I think I always
will. So, I ask you to do the same.
These words are in “Streetlights Words the Urban
Missionary Lives by”:
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN
DON’T TRY TO DO GOD’S JOB.
ALWAYS SAY YES IF SOMEONE ASKS
YOU FOR HELP.
PRAYER IS YOUR BEST COMPANION.
YOU ARE ON THE STREETS – BE
BELIEVE NOTHING YOU HEAR, AND
SEEK DISCERNMENT ABOUT
EVERYTHING YOU SEE.
DON’T PREACH – LET YOUR ACTIONS
SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES.
ALWAYS REMEMBER THE PEOPLE
YOU SEE ON THE STREETS ARE GOD’S
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN
© 1982 Refugee Apostolate, Inc.