A few years back, quite a few years if truth be told, I put in some time working the front desk of a local downtown mission. My day to day job usually consisted of the normal meet and greet type of activities, handing out informational pamphlets regarding the programs we offered, and maybe taking in a donation or two, with my time between these things filled in by working the switchboard. On those rare occasions when I was available to do so, however, there would be those special encounters with people of the neighborhood popping in at all hours of the day or evening, and usually, as is so commonplace with missions, popping in when things in these people’s lives just weren’t going so well. On at least some of these occasions, things in their lives were not only not going well, but you could say they were pretty much in the midst of crashing and burning.
It was early one evening a long time ago now and the reason I think it’s back in my head again is because it happened at just about this time of the year, though like I said, a long time back. I was just about ready to end my shift, when a young girl about 14 or 15 came in through the door, looking rough enough that I didn’t need her to say anything to know that she had been living on the streets for some time already. Since she looked like she might collapse otherwise, I offered her a seat on one of the hard plastic waiting-room chairs, then told her to try and get comfortable and I’d be right back. Glancing back over my shoulder as I left her there, I called back and asked her with my best “friend-making” smile, “Hey, you got a name?” I’m pretty sure she said Alysha. (I’m also pretty sure I change all the names in posts like these.)
When I came back to her in the reception area, even though her eyes were open, I had to say her name at least twice to get her attention. Then once I was reasonably certain she was awake, I gave her the tuna sandwich, the egg salad sandwich, and the coffee I had snagged her from the kitchen, and finally I introduced her to Caitlin, who was the woman in charge of our Ladies Outreach Program, an excellent Social Worker with a heart three sizes too big, and judging from the load she carried around every day, invisible shoulders the same size as Mean Joe Green’s. As soon as it seemed Alysha was comfortable with Caitlin, I left them to talk and returned to my desk.
It wasn’t really all that long before Caitlin came into the office and asked if I could keep an eye on Alysha for a while until Caitlin could make a few phone calls. It seemed the young girl was sick enough that my Social Worker friend wasn’t too keen on letting her head back out to the streets, but Alysha was threatening to run if anyone tried to contact her parents, which would have been pretty tough anyway since we had no last name by which to figure out who to call. There was always child services, but neither Caitlin nor myself felt much like wrestling a sick adolescent to the floor, and holding them there until someone from the agency arrived anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours later depending on how busy they were. Caitlin thought she might be able to find a safe bed for her, but she needed some time to make the calls. I told her it was no problem, I would keep Alysha occupied until Caitlin was ready. It turned out that job was even easier to do than it was to say.
I had started to get up from my desk, when I glanced out the window into the reception area, and I could see that Alysha was now stretched out across several of the chairs, apparently dead to the world. The sobs that had been making up the background music for the last little while had changed at some point into quiet little snores that I guess Caitlin and I had missed while we were talking. In the end, it took Caitlin a little over 1/2 hour to locate a bed for Alysha, and all I ever knew was that it was only available for that one night. I wish I knew what happened to that young lady, but I also wish I knew what happened to another 20 or 25 youngsters just like her that I’ve encountered over the years, and I have no doubt that I will continue to encounter more like them for some time yet. Part of that comes from living in the area I live in, part of it comes from being a Christian. Still another part of it comes from the fact that like all human beings, I have a built-in sense of compassion for my fellow man. I believe we all have it, I also believe that the people who use it the least may be the very people who have it the most. They simply feel they have to shut it down, or drown beneath it. Though I consider it somewhat fortunate that I don’t find myself feeling that way often, I have felt that way at times. I felt that way the day I wrote this poem for a young girl I’ll probably never see ever again. But even now, some 10 or 15 years later, I still have those days where I find myself hoping that she beat the odds, and that despite everything, somehow she’s O.K.
Curled across the row of chairs
Sleep briefly frees her from her cares
Too soon she’ll have to wake again
To face once more the waiting pain
I had but time to ask her name
Through wracking sobs I heard her say…
She sleeps and snores before my eyes
The sound assures me of her life
I wonder what the slumber brings
This waif who has no cuddly things
No one at all to cuddle her
The way they did when she was pure…
Today the crisis was forestalled
God’s servant sent into the breach
A little comfort, food and sleep
A prayer to God her soul to keep
Tomorrow though, another day
Sweet Spirit help her find her way…
There is certainly more hardship and grief in this modern world of ours than any one, or even one million people can solve. But, you know what? I have also seen the love that is in this world, and even more than that, I have seen the love that is rampant in this Blogging community that I have become so proud to say that I am one little part of. Every day I see bloggers taking space up on their sites, or time out of their days, just to post an article, or write a comment, sometimes no more than a few words long, that have only one real purpose as their reason for being brought into existence. To make some other blogger feel just a little bit better about themselves, or forget about their pain for just a little while, or sometimes just to let someone know that someone else considers them to be part of the community. And every time I read one of those articles, or another one of those comments, then I know that all the darkness, and all the BS, and all the nonsense in the world doesn’t have a hope in hell of conquering the goodness that just continues to pour out of so many hearts like a continual flood, drowning all the hate long before it can do any permanent damage. And I just wanted to say that as my way of standing against the silly complaints, and the troll-inspired, vitriol-filled comments that I have seen sneaking their way onto some of my favorite Bloggers pages over the last couple weeks. I’m not going to mention names, you guys and gals know who you are, and the only important thing is that you know it makes absolutely no difference to the people reading your pages who really count. So keep on writing, and I’ll read you later. Until then…