Yesterday I went to drop some stuff off at a homeless shelter in a nearby town.   I’m one of those reusable shopping bags people, as if you couldn’t guess that by now.  I was carrying three mismatched ones and had left my coat in the car.  It was quite cold out, but I don’t like to drive with it on and didn’t see the use in putting it on for just a minute or two.

I waited in a long line at the shelter’s front desk, shifting my bags from finger to finger.  The woman in line ahead of me had three children, two of whom were having a meltdown.  I crouched down to flirt with the baby lolling in his stroller.  When it was finally my turn, I explained to the friendly girl at the desk that I’d spoken to Sister Mary Roberta and that she was expecting me.

Go down the hall here, make a left, and you’ll see her.  She’s in the coat room and the only nun on the place.

The shelter was once a grand hotel.  Then it was a flophouse.  Now it’s been nicely restored with original paint colors and plastic crystals strung over the gaps in the chandeliers.  The radiators were heating the building to temperatures north of 80.  And everything smelled like commercial disinfectants and noodles.    I’d never been inside before yesterday.  It was pleasanter than I expected, really.  I found Sister Mary Roberta just where the girl said she’d be.

Hi, there.  I think you’re expecting me? I’m–

Oh, of course! She chirped.  It was gratifying to hear a nun chirp, just like in the movies.  Miranda, it’s so good to see you again.  Let’s find you a coat here.  I think there’s a nice one in your size right here.

I was, well, gobsmacked a second.  She’d mistaken me for a person from the shelter.

No! My um coat’s in the ca– My name’s Churchrat.  I’d emailed you yesterday about bringing these things by.

I lofted my shopping bags.

Oh, yes, of course.  You certainly have a double here.  My, my.  So you’ve got stuff for the kids for school?

Yes, that’s right.

I followed her down another hall.  We unloaded the bags onto a low, red table in a brightly decorated playroom.  She thanked me, and I left.

One of my best girl friends was homeless for a while.  She left her very bad husband and had no where to go.   She is smart and good looking and resourceful and reasonably well-educated and funny and a really good mom.   And she lived in her car and on people’s couches and in emergency shelters for almost a year.   A women’s shelter got her off the streets after almost a year, helped her find care for her kids so she could finish school and get a job.  A church gave her a car so she didn’t have to spend four hours a day with a double stroller on mass transit.

Today she sits on the shelter’s board and gives speeches about domestic violence and homelessness.   She owns a house in a posh suburb, although she’ll take pains to explain it’s the second ugliest house in town and she puts up with the ugly house and the snobby neighbors because the schools are good there.   I can’t tell you how proud I am to be a friend of this amazing woman.

Her shelter is having a Valentine’s Day thing.  They’re soliciting donations so that every woman staying there or using their services gets flowers and a card.  It’s a lonely time for a lot of them.  The shelter also urges people, wherever they live, to find something similar to do in their own hometowns.

I emailed Sister Mary Roberta to see what I could do.  She said the kids needed cards to give to their classmates, and I was able to spend some of the money from my housesitting gig on several boxes.  I was really happy I had the housesitting money to spend like that.

Because, as Sister Mary Roberta reminded me so poignantly, the poor, the homeless and the hungry are fundamentally no different than we are.   Cataclysmic misfortune could happen to almost all of us.

I know I don’t speak with a huge amount of moral authority here.  Mostly I whine and bitch, but I’d like to urge you to celebrate this Valentines Day by sharing some of your abundance–even if it doesn’t seem all that abundant–with someone who needs it more.

Also, sign this petition.

 

 

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