A New Year's Eve Story by Marti Fischer
The heater blew. Okay, literally it burned out. Sunny California is not sunny right now and it is not warm. It is cold, cold, cold… 49 degrees worth of cold – inside.
So yes. I admit. I am a pansy. But this is the land of fruits and nuts, for heaven sake, and while I am a New Yorker and thus understand what is to be really cold in spite of warm jackets and cozy mittens, my blood in So Cal is running very thin. So yes, it is true as John reports, to keep up with the Catch member calls and emails I apprehended the portable electric heater and closed myself in the only bathroom in our house for three days.
John on the other hand emerged from our bedroom into the bathroom with layers of sweaters, thermal underwear, and two pairs of socks. He suggested I do the same. I was close to concurring until he gave me a dear hunter’s hat, flaps down. Before he recommended I stuff my clothes with crumpled newspaper, I asked that he leave the room and lock the door behind him.
All snuggled in my self made cocoon, I took a call from a woman who is without a home. I know her. She lives on the grass under trees in the park, and during the day she sits on benches on the Promenade. Burdened by bags and backpacks and pushing her shopping cart spilling over with all her earthly possessions, she appreciates the kindness of strangers.
This woman is our neighbor, our sister or mother – you or me. And while there are many conditions that caused my caller to slide into homelessness, she has been deteriorating on the streets for years. She is you. She is me. She is every woman who is homeless everywhere, sleeping outside under a blanket of stars. And tonight she is cold. And as I am presently without the normal comforts of home, still “suffering” with a door to lock and covers to keep warm, I can’t imagine how cold.
So why tell this story and where is the hope? What can we gain from one woman’s story? Two things: The reason for telling you about my friend is that like Job of the Old Testament, she has never, ever given up.
The second reason is told in another story of someone who is also among our Catch membership. Her name is Shelly. She presently is homeless living with her young son in Chandler, Arizona. There are many parts to her story that I will wait for her to tell, but there is one that will reach your heart and run right down to the bottom of your toes and back again to where the feeling began.
Shelly saw to the video John and I recorded on what I thought was a practice session that he posted on YouTube. In the video I recommend as I have numerous times before that no one should be left alone during the Christmas season. I suggested that those who find themselves alone should contact their community shelter to ask how they might volunteer, believing that if we step into the dark lives of others who are hurting, our fear will dissipate and perhaps even our own loneliness.
Well, Ms. Shelly watched the video, heard my recommendation, and on December 25th she acted on it. In her words: “I was reminded that no matter what, reaching out feeds everyone.”
Her little boy and her sought a man sitting on the curb and gave him a snack. “I was moved to do this because of what you said, ‘To do something to make someone else’s Christmas Day better.’”
Out from her own life she made sure she looked him in his eyes. She touched his poverty by laying a hand on his shoulder; it was important to her that he felt like he mattered to her – that he was not invisible. “I hate that feeling.”
Shelly writes that he was really shy but said to her, “You are amazing.” “No,” Shelly responded, “you are amazing, even if you do not feel like it right now.”
In my opinion the Lord Jesus Christ visited this man with Shelly being the carrier. I know this because she continues to write: “Marti, I want to tell you that the way I felt leaving his company was incredible. I didn’t expect to get that much out of it myself, but I felt connected to the world and proud, and filled with all that we think Christmas should be.”
Her letter concluded: “It was awesome to be a part of a planted seed. Who knows where it goes from here? Maybe someone saw me do that so they will do the same for someone else; maybe he will be inspired to move forward and find a better life for himself; or maybe it was just a very cool experience…”
Over this year we have walked around the Catch site together, getting to know each other. One member put it like this, “There is no wall between us and the Catch. … We’re in this community; we’re going down this path together.” That means that you and I and those we serve are being made visible. We are all having our eyes opened to see each other in new ways.
Still, it’s a fight to come out of our semi-hiding state of being. People we are not familiar with can make us uncomfortable. We pretend we don’t see them. It’s easier to turn away. It’s a relief. But once we allow ourselves to be visible, and we don’t look away or through someone or beyond them, we start to see ourselves in people everywhere.
Might I suggest the next time you look at your husband or your children or your neighbor or Shelly, look them in the eye. Touch your own poverty and someone else’s by a hand on a shoulder. Tell your son and daughter that they matter. As Shelly advises, tell your neighbor that he is not invisible, because, as Shelly tells it, “I hate that feeling.”
We all do, Shelly… we all do.