Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sleepless in Chicago

I was driving home at about 10:00 tonight when I saw a middle-aged woman carrying a heavy bag and wandering as though she was lost, drunk, or both. She stumbled into the street at least twice. At this particular corner, it's not unusual to see a lot of homeless people, drunks, or other loiterers because it is the end of the train line from the city. But for some reason, this woman caught my attention. It was like the little girl wearing red in Schindler's List; as she wove through the people and across the street, I just couldn't help but watch.

I immediately felt an absurd compassion. I didn't have any reason to think twice about her or help her, but everything in me felt like I needed to do it anyway. I ignored the urge and drove past, only to feel a heaviness like I had just made a mistake. I turned around and as she walked by, I again didn't do anything. Again the heaviness. Again I turned around. I think I passed her three times before I finally pulled to the side of the road and rolled down the window. I felt like some creepy stalker, but I simply could not ignore this woman.

Me: Excuse me, ma'am?
She peered cautiously into the car
Me: Would you like a ride?
Her: Oh! I'm so afraid of the africans, but I'm only going a few blocks. 
Me: Well, I noticed that your bag seems heavy so I thought I could give you a ride if you wanted it. 
Her: It is really heavy, but I am just going a few blocks. 
Me: Ok, well if you want a ride, you can have one (in a conclusive, this-conversation-is-over sort of tone)
Her: Well, yes. Yes, I want a ride! 

She got in the car.

And we talked

and talked

and talked

and talked.

This is what I can piece together of her story:

Gloria is 62 and has been homeless for 15 years. Prior to becoming homeless, she had been a chef in a restaurant for many years, then went on to become a high-level architect for over 10 years. She had three children: a son and daughter who were teens and another daughter who was elementary-aged (8?). She found that her husband had inappropriate pictures of her daughters and when she tried to report it, he managed to turn everything against her instead. Soon she found herself without a home, money, or any of her children.

In the 15 years since then, she has been beaten, robbed, and raped numerous times while she has lived homeless in a number of cities. All of these attacks were done by either "africans" or "mexicans," but mostly "africans." As a result she is terrified of anyone in either of those groups and incredibly judgmental towards them. Her life seems to revolve around avoiding anyone that she considers to fit one of those descriptions.

I haven't heard such blatant, ignorant racism in my life, except as portrayed in movies or books from pre-civil-rights era. It was utterly appalling. Yet, as disgusted as I was with her negative depictions of people, I couldn't help but feel a deep sorrow for the injustices that she has encountered.

We talked for over an hour; she would have talked all night if I would have let her. Maybe I should have. At some point, I tried to wind down the conversation:

Me: Is there anything I can do to help you?
Gloria, shrugging: What can you do?
Me: Well, what do you need? If you could have anything at all, what would help you get back on your feet?
Gloria: In the past 15 years, I have been so abandoned and hurt......There is nothing that can be done. You just don't forget all of that. 

I have no idea how much of her story is true. But regardless of how she got there, Gloria has no hope. None.

How do you just go to bed after an encounter like this?


  1. Jaymi,you gave her a safe haven for an hour and cared. That is not much in our lives, but in hers, it is HOPE in humanity. That is sometimes all that is needed for someone to turn their life around. Good job, baby sister

  2. Wow, Jaymi. Thank you for posting about this. It's so encouraging and convicting to me. As Jessica said, you gave this woman so much when you gave her your time and your attention. I'm sure the hope and love of Christ was shining through your kindness, even if a word about it wasn't spoken.