What would you do if you saw a barefoot homeless woman on a bitterly cold winter night?
My friend Estera lives in Seattle and takes the bus to work. A few days ago I received this email message from her:
“I have to tell you this while it’s fresh in my mind. My bus goes by a women’s work-release group home. As usual on this early-morning bus, several young women get on there and make their way to the back. They’re just behind me, talking about homeless people, I think, particularly about one woman downtown whose shoes are so small for her that she has to cut open the toes to make her feet fit in. They’re brainstorming who might have a pair of shoes that would fit so they can give them to her. Then one woman tells this story:
‘So I was downtown one night and it was really cold and I had boots on and there was this woman and she was barefoot. I mean I was cold and I had boots and two pairs of socks. She just had sandals and bare feet. And I had a bottle of water in my bag and some of those handiwipes. So I stopped and I gave her my socks. And she was like ‘thank you so much.’
‘I washed her feet first. With the water and the wipes. They were so dirty from walking around with just sandals and no socks. And she was crying, and like ‘no one ever did anything like this for me’ and she was crying, well she was drunk, and she was like ‘thank you so much, no one ever…’ I was cold and I was ready—boots and socks. I would have given her socks if I only had one pair.’
“Then," Estera continued, "it was my stop, and I got off without seeing whose story it was. But I’m so glad to have someone to tell it to.” She immediately wrote down the conversation and sent it to me.
There are so many things I love about this story. First, the women who got on the bus and took seats behind Estera are living in a work-release center. In other words, they’re in prison and not exactly at the top of their game. Nor are they likely women of means. Yet they’re trying to figure out how they can get a pair of shoes to a homeless woman.
Second, on a bitterly cold night one of them saw a suffering woman and didn’t hesitate to act. She didn’t walk by, shaking her head. She didn’t think, “Who can I call to fix this?” She didn’t worry that the woman might have lice or bedbugs. She did what her heart told her to do. I hope I’ll someday have a chance to follow her example.
Third, the woman was drunk. Her helper didn’t care. She didn’t judge her. She washed her feet.
Fourth—and this touches me personally—together we are in the process of creating a forum where we can share such stories of compassion. That’s not something I ever envisioned doing with my life, but I love it. Thank you, thank you.
If you have stories of service you’d like to share,
-- leave a comment on this site,
-- or post a comment on my Facebook page here
-- or send me an email through my Contact page.
My second story of service today builds on the blog I wrote for the Huffington Post last week, What to Say When Someone Dies. There’s a link for it below. My hope is that the blog will help people open up and speak from their hearts, or simply sit in silence, when they’re with people in grief.
A few days after I finished writing that blog, I found myself in the company of a grieving woman. My parents and I were in the Virginia mountains getting ready for a family reunion. We’d gone to breakfast at a restaurant overlooking a lake. Our waitress that morning was a pleasant woman with a thick country accent. My parents mentioned to her that they’re in their nineties. This frequently happens. Mom and Dad look much younger than their age, and they enjoy seeing the surprise on the faces of people they meet.
Our waitress regarded us somberly. “I just lost my mother last spring,” she said.
“Oh no,” I said. “What happened?”
She began telling us the story of her mother’s illness, in detail.
We had finished eating and were ready to go; we had somewhere we needed to be. It really wasn’t “socially appropriate” to be having such a conversation with this woman. But we could sense that she needed to talk about her mother. So we listened carefully and asked a few questions. And five minutes later, when she had finished, we wished her well. She thanked us with a smile.
It was the most important five minutes we spent all that week.
A link to my Huff Post blog, "What to Say When Someone Dies," is in the blog just below.