May 3, 2009

Thanksgiving Revisited in May

Last week I saw the little Latino lady again. She seemed healthier but most likely is still living in the streets. She brushed past me with no recognition, but I remembered clearly the little lesson she taught me about being grateful.

It was a brisk sunny morning right before Thanksgiving, a cold day for most South Floridians, especially if you are on the streets. I was in a hurry, at 7:30am I wanted to get a jump on my day. But then I saw her. Her hooded sweatshirt was pulled tightly around her face, tuffs of white hair sticking out everywhere, she was my age. Our eyes met, big blue eyes, like my dad’s, swimming with tears…. she didn’t say anything but the pain was etched deeply in her face. Confusion filled her eyes, she looked sick. Maybe disoriented? Even crazy?? Well I don’t make those assumptions anymore in the city; we are all a little crazy to varying degrees.

“Do you need something” I ask edsoftly, “Are you hungry?” She rambled on in Spanish, I understood very little. Again I asked if she is hungry, putting my fingers to my mouth. That would be me, I just want to fix something, everything, what do you need…I’ll try!

She shook her head no and whispered “cafĂ© con leche” She just wanted some hot coffee. We headed back to the favorite place of early morning workers entering Government Center. We joined the line for the “specials” where you choose from a variety of breakfast dishes offering a full breakfast menu, including the coffee, all at a great price. The lady seemed hesitant but the girl behind the counter caught on quickly and spoke kindly to her in Spanish, offering everything in generous amounts. I smiled, I just loved that Bottega worker for that!! I finally paid and we headed for the tables.

I dropped to the chair beside the small lady who was now more comfortable and opening up in Spanish. Truthfully I just wanted to get to the office. I do not speak Spanish so the whole exercise seemed pointless, but I sat for a minute. She was fed...right? As her meal sat still boxed, she just wanted to tell me her story, something about a fever, the ER, her neck, something about aspirin. Thinking of the boys from this book I remembered that street people just need to tell their stories, they need to be heard. I wasn't really listening. Oh dear I just wanted to get to work!! I stayed for a minute, then told her she could go back to the ER but our communication was so poor. I had to leave!! I am sure she saw my impatience, she started saying

“Tank you Mommy, Tank you Mommy…Deos te bendiga! Usted es una buena mujer!”

We embraced but I was barely out the door when I heard the voice! Who is that voice anyway?? Is it me, my conscience, some sicko thing I have going, or....does God really speak to my soul! It is always quiet and just comes.... age and years have taught me to pay attention.

“Go back and give her some money….she needs Tylenol or Motrin for the fever, she has a virus” I turned back reluctantly and headed for the table. She didn’t see me coming but I had a clear view of her back. Her head moving like she is talking to someone but no one is there. As I approached, I could see her eyes looking high above and her hands poised in prayer, like those alter boys I've seen in the Catholic Church. Her face looked like an angel, her fear gone and with my poor Spanish I could understand her words. "Thank you God! Thank you Jesus” she rattled on through her tears, I could see she was immersed in pure joy!…truly thankful. She suddenly turned in my direct as I stood in front of her, telling me something in Spanish about God, pointing to the untouched food and then to the ceiling of the high atrium. Now I was awkward, so I handed her the money and told her she needed medicine, I told her to talk to the pharmacist pointing to the downstairs pharmacy. Walking away, I turned, she was eating the food.

I was hurrying along till I heard the voice again, resonating from deep inside, pregnant with truth;

“Ginny, THAT was Thanksgiving”

In all my plans that year, I was not in a place of true Thanksgiving. I cannot explain it but there was something about that little lady’s spirit, she was truly grateful, in a way that being needy brings. I was very needy too, but I didn’t even know it till I met her. God bless her wherever she is. What would I ever do without all these strangers teaching me every day?!

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