Water splashed from my tires as I pulled into the parking lot of the Insurance Company where I’m the secretary. The grass seemed to stand taller since it’s thirst had been quenched. My wipers squeaked an irritating sound as they cleared the morning drizzle from my view. My car seemed to blend each morning with the thousands of pieces of gravel that covered our abandoned parking lot. Over along the edge of the yard was something unusual that morning, a large black object, that at first glance appeared to have the shape of a human body. I could see the curves which were possible shoulders and hips.
As I sat in my now locked car, I studied the unfamiliar thing lying in the mud. My eyes strained as they tried to focus through the fog. I couldn’t decide if it were a bag or a blanket. Thoughts of someone jumping me when I crossed the parking lot flashed through my mind. The way things are in the world today, a woman can never be too careful. Then I tried to think a bit more logically, rather than from fear. What would a person possibly be doing at an insurance office, in the rain, lying in the mud? I put my glasses on and looked at it from a different angle, and persuaded myself to believe it was a pile of trash someone had dumped over the weekend.
I quickly trotted across the parking lot, my feet hardly touched the ground. I unlocked the building just long enough to get inside. From the side window of the building I could see that the object still hadn’t moved. Convinced by then it was definitely trash, I proceeded to cut lights and machines on for the day, as I did each morning.
As I sat at my desk, something inside nudged at me. What if it were a person, hurt, or even dead. What kind of person would I be if I just let them lie there on the cold, wet ground? I paced from my desk to the window over and over again, like a father anticipating delivery. Finally, I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Knowing that it could possibly be a deranged killer, I took a deep breath and went marching out anyway.
As I approached the pile of trash, I could clearly see it wasn’t that at all, but a person underneath a charcoal gray blanket. Scared, to say the least, my scratchy voice managed to force out a rather shaky, “Excuse me”, yet they lay silent in my fear. I tip-toed closer and pulled the blanket back, to find a woman. She was startled from sleep, and jumped into sitting position. When she saw that I was knelt beside her, looking, she pulled the blanket up tightly and hung her head in shame. A single tear, as alone as she was, trickled down her soiled face. Maybe she felt shame because she wasn’t dressed in a clean, nicely tailored business suit like myself, maybe because she hadn’t pulled up in a new car loaded with all the extras, maybe because she didn’t leave a warm home that morning to go to a nice job, or maybe simply because she didn’t know how, to have all those things. Suddenly, I felt her shame leap into my soul and pierce my heart like a dagger. A huge lump formed in my throat and I became ashamed of myself, not for having nice things, but for not helping those who didn’t.
In the woman’s eyes I could see a deep sadness, it was as if I could see right into her heart. She looked to be middle aged, though her eyes were surrounded by wrinkles of stress and worry. Her head had been shaved and she was wet and had an odor. The way she looked up at me was as if pleading for me to help her. Through the soil that covered her face, I could see that she looked Caucasian, but she spoke with a Spanish accent. “I’m sorry, I’ll go”, she said over and over again. “That’s not why I came out here”, I explained in a soft comforting voice. “I just don’t want you lying here in the mud, can I take you to a shelter?”
“No, no shelter. I will find a job soon, and I will get a home of my own, I just need to rest”.
“Yes, I’m sure you will, but they can help you at the shelter, they’ll give you clothes, food, and a place to stay”.
“No! No shelter, please”, she begged.
“O.K.”, I said, deciding to let her keep what was left of her pride, “but I can’t let you lay here in the rain. My name is Vanessa, what’s yours?”
With the frailest voice Id ever heard, she replied, “Mary”.
I couldn’t take her inside, I knew my boss would frown on that, so I decided to give her the only thing I had to offer at that present moment, the warmth of my car. I never carry cash, so I didn’t even have that to offer her. “Mary, would you like to rest in my car for a while, it’s warm and dry?” Without saying a word, she picked up a small, white, plastic bag that held all her belongings in this world, I’m sure, which had been hidden underneath the blanket with her. She followed me to my car. It was still nice and toasty from my ride to work. “You can rest here for as long as you like and here’s my pone number, if I can ever help you, just call.” Mary mumbled something in Spanish that I didn’t understand, but she took the paper with my number on it and crammed it into her pocket. She was hesitant about getting into my car, “but I’ll get your car dirty.”
Can you imagine that, she was worried about my car. “You don’t worry about that, you’re fine, I’m not worried about my car, I’m worried about you.” I coaxed her a little and she finally climbed in. I left her there for a much needed rest.
By the time the agents at the office came in my cheeks were red and flustered and tears had filled my eyes. I had never seen anyone so alone. I knew the homeless existed, but I thought it was only in big cities, like New York. I was young and naïve. My coworkers asked if anything were wrong. When I told them about what I had encountered that morning, I was shocked at their responses. One told me that I shouldn’t have gotten involved, and that the homeless were everywhere and there was simply no hope for them, another said I had done a good deed, but there was only so much a person could do “for people like that”, and one even went so far as to say I shouldn’t have let her lie in my car because she might have ruined the upholstery and would spread her germs. I couldn’t believe what I heard from, who were otherwise, wonderful people. Is this the way the world feels about the homeless? Do we see them as a pile of trash with less value tan the upholstery in our cars?
Admittedly, I never really gave the issue much thought before that day. Mary left after about an hours rest, and I never heard from her or saw her again, but she constantly became part of my thoughts. I wondered where her family was, how long she’d been on the streets, if she had children somewhere, what she’d do when winter came. My mind went on and on. I wondered how many other people there were in my town alone, that were homeless, like Mary. That’s when I decided to volunteer at the local shelter for the homeless. At least by my being there, they would know someone cared. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone cared?
I sometimes wonder if maybe Mary was an angel sent to open my eyes, in particular, for now I see the homeless with a whole new outlook. I think most of us view them as simply a nuisance to society, people who won’t work, looking for a handout, but looking into the eyes of Mary, I could see more, a person, a truly lonely person, with a heart, earnestly searching for an answer, and a life.
I volunteered at two different homeless shelters in our town for a few years and later felt led to become a foster parent to the many children in need of love and a home. I fostered ten different children over a number of years and adopted twins, my forever loves. God speaks to us and leads us in different ways, and I am so glad He does.