Saturday, October 06, 2007


As I wrote this, I was thinking of a homeless woman I met in Whiteclay, Nebraska. May God be with her...

She spoke; I leapt with a start. Her soft-spoken plea shattered the lonesome night. "M-my coat… l-lost my coat… cold t-tonight..."

Why did I turn to face her, this night? Every other evening I passed her by, where she stood in the shadows only blocks from my apartment. And I never heeded her prayers, never even looked back. But this night, that thin voice crept into my soul, and I turned.

And met despair. As her searching eyes bore into mine, I glimpsed the shadow of misery too keen and monstrous to grasp, housed within her twisted body. In that gaze she shared with me a lifetime of pain--it tore my gut, and yet it locked onto my mind, and I had no will to turn away. I saw no shame, no fear--those feelings were mine alone, and my cheeks flushed as my awareness of her hopelessness deepened. As she gripped my mind she seized my hand (or did I take hers?) and placed it against her scarlet neck; she burned with fever.

Feeling suddenly as if an iron block had descended upon me, I reeled and backed away. I shook my coat off and thrust it into her arms, and fled toward home. I lingered not even long enough to know if she thanked me.

I never saw her again, after that excruciating night. Days later, over breakfast, a small blurb in the newspaper caught my eye: Homeless woman found dead last night, corner of 33rd and Young.

A human life begins and ends, and its vastness is encapsulated in a sentence fragment buried in the daily news. I cried. The despair was captivating.

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