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.