Dear Sad Lady standing by the street sign, on the corner, in the cold, and in the rain. I see you. I really do…see…you. You’re thin and gaunt. Your clothing is dirty and doesn’t fit. You are wearing 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or maybe even 5th , hand clothing.
You wear an expression that is hard to read. Is it bitterness? Defiance? Hopelessness? Loneliness? How old are you? It’s hard to tell, 35? 40? 50? Yet, the look in your eyes tells me your mind may be far, far away. Does your mind go to a place of comfort for protection from the looks of scorn cast your direction by the many sets of eyes that see you but don’t really see you?
What has brought you to this place? You look so empty, so hurt, so very forlorn.
What happened that put you in such a place of humiliating despair? Perhaps you suffer from mental issues that hold you captive to a lifestyle that is far less than it should be.
A real physical reaction leaps through my chest. There is a combination of emotions running through me, sadness, anger, sympathy, frustration.
Why you? Why not me in your place? I’m dressed in nice clothes, driving a nice car, I just left a warm comfortable home. Soon, I‘ll be joining my friends, who will be wearing nice clothes and beautiful smiles. We’ll meet for breakfast, in a nice restaurant, where I can easily pay my bill. Has there been a time in your life when you were able to do the same? Or, has your life always been a struggle and one of mental and physical pain?
You are not the only woman hoping for help by hanging out at the stop signs and traffic lights. Every Sunday morning, on the way to church, we see the same elderly woman sitting on a small stool, on the same corner. She has, with her, a broken down, badly repaired grocery cart. The cart appears to contain her earthly belongings and treasures. One treasure is a dirty, worn stuffed clown doll. That makes me think of my “treasures,” some of the things I hold dear. Why have I been so blessed? By the way, the third time I saw this “elderly” woman, I paid more attention to her. Her skin is lined and deeply tanned from the many hours of sitting at her post. Her sunken face tells me she has no teeth. I looked into her eyes and realized she was probably about ten years younger than I am. Life has been cruel to her.
I have wondered what she would say if we invited to her to go to church with us. I should grow bolder and ask instead of just wondering! Why do the women, who are panhandling, look like they are so much more in dire need than the men? Let’s be honest. Women are far too frequently victims of abuse and falling between the cracks. They are weaker and more vulnerable. It truly hurts my heart. I pray for them but I know that is not enough. After all, are we not the branches? We reach out.
I’ve grown accustomed to the regulars, the panhandlers who choose to put themselves out there with their cardboard signs. So many! Most are professionals. I know this. I have seen them park their nice car in a lot not very far away from where they stand with their signs. I’ve seen them dropped off from vans in the same manner a city bus drops riders who are heading to their places of employment. I’ve read the stories where the beggars openly, yet anonymously, shared their stories of their large income, nice cars and homes, received by panhandling, suckering in the tender-hearted. That makes me angry. Angry, mostly because they harden our hearts to those who may truly need a generous handout, a smile, some food, some kindness.
Have I grown callous? There is a multitude of cardboard sign carriers, some in real need, some absolutely not. How do I know who truly needs help, who is really down and out? Lord, what do I do? If I give the person, pleading for a handout, some cash, am I helping or hurting? Am I adding fuel to the flame? Will she/he buy food, shelter, life’s necessities, clothing? Or, will the money buy another fix, another bottle, another pill, another spin on a casino slot machine? Do I give and not worry about what will be done with the money, letting that be between them and God?
Teresa L. Sexton