Friday, January 6, 2012

Where Was She Going?

New Year's Day was packed at the soup kitchen. Not one table was empty. Every time I looked up from the tray of Sloppy Joes in the steam table, the line seemed to get longer. It was cold outside, and a couple of my friends were giving out winter gloves.

I barely had time to pause, and I had to remind myself to make eye contact. My friend, Phyllis, a Dominican Sister, once told me something that is so important relating to human worth and dignity. Many people out on their own, homeless or transient, haven't heard their own name in a long time. I didn't have time to use names or to even stop the line to chat, but I could definitely exchange greetings and make eye contact.

I had stepped back to let someone refill my Sloppy Joes when I saw them. A mother and a father and a little boy of about two. They were dragging over the high chair and the little boy's smile was as wide as his face. He was thrilled to be there. I ran to fill his sippy cup with some milk, wondering how long it had been since he'd had some. Milk is expensive.

One of the people who helps run the soup kitchen was watching from off to the side of the room. Watching with an accusing eye, to make sure I wasn't giving them something extra. Which made me want to give them all the more. We're not supposed to give out any containers, in case someone wants to take something "to go". But it's not my fault if I happen to drop a sheet of foil as I'm passing a table. I can sort of understand the supervisor's jadedness. He's been burned by the desperate few who are looking to take advantage to get ahead. But today I wasn't playing by his rules. Our church had purchased, prepared and served the food, and if I wanted to give out ten Sloppy Joes per customer, I was going to do it.

There is almost always someone out of the crowd who makes me stop short. This time it was a young woman. It looked as if she had arrived alone, and she stood about a half a step back from the silverware and green plastic trays at the beginning of the line. It wasn't so easy to make eye contact with her, because her eyes were veiled with the hazy cloud of her addiction. My husband asked her how many Sloppy Joes she wanted and she took so long to answer, he had to ask again. Her hair was dirty and her hands were shaking as she took her plate.

I couldn't stop thinking about her. Did she have anyone who cared where she slept, and how had her life gotten to where it was?

I looked for her later, but couldn't spot her in the crowded, noisy room. She was still on my mind as I cleaned up and rounded up my family, driving home in my warm car.

14 comments:

Heather Kelly said...

That eye contact is such a good reminder. I have the tendency to drop my eyes--out of guilt of having so much.

Thank you for sharing your experience!

Amy said...

What a moving story - thanks for sharing! I often work with the homeless in the library, and I agree with Heather's comment about not always making eye contact. This is a great reminder to be more mindful of even the littlest interactions.

gael lynch said...

Human dignity stripped by addiction, so sad, Ann! I'll keep her in my prayers. You had me at the sippy cup! So hard to imagine this in a country like ours. Your words capture the people so beautifully. This is a message we all need to heed. Thanks for putting it out there for all the world to see.

Mary Lee said...

It's so hard to play by the rules when the rules prevent you from doing the right thing...

Annie said...

Thanks for reading, Heather!

Annie said...

Amy,
One of the men at the soup kitchen always has a library book under his arm. He treats that book with such care, and I'm so glad that he has the library!

Annie said...

Thanks so much, Gael. We need to get together soon!

Annie said...

Mary,
That is so true!

Carol A.Bender said...

A friendly smile can go a long way. Thanks for stopping by my blog recently.

MotherReader said...

So beautifully written, and so showing of your compassionate spirit.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

An important reminder to treat all people with dignity

Carrie Monroe said...

It would be so hard not to give people who have so little an extra sandwich. Thank you for sharing this story.

Camille said...

What a well written post. The thought of the smiling two year old boy in want of a sippy cup of milk is especially poignant. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Annie said...

Thank you so much for your kind comments!