Try to stay here if you can.
There’s a woman in my neighborhood who stands on the corner, almost every day, selling Street Roots: a newspaper filled with true stories of homelessness and poverty.
I see her most days. I usually smile. She usually smiles back. Sometimes I buy the paper. Sometimes we exchange a few words before I head into the coffee shop.
Today was different.
I passed by and I noticed an anguished look on her face. I stopped to ask if she was OK. She said “No.” She began to cry.
Tears fell. Words fell. Over the next thirty minutes or so, we stood outside on the corner in the blistering heat, and she told me her entire life story. It was horrific.
Just about every form of disrespect, cruelty, humiliation, and degradation that a human being can experience… this woman has experienced. The world has been unkind to her, practically since the moment she was born.
She has been homeless five times. Soon, it might be six.
She has no money, no permanent home to call her own, and a disability that makes it difficult to keep any type of job. She thinks about ending her life every single day. She desperately wants to leave this “earth suit,” as she put it. She wishes she had cancer so that then, at least, the end would be closer.
As she spoke, my mind kept running, wondering, “What should I say? What should I say? What can I say to give this woman some comfort, hope, a reason to stay alive?”
But sometimes there are no “magic words” that will fix everything.
I found myself thinking, “Don’t say something, do something.”
So I did.
I bought a copy of her newspaper.
I offered her a hug and she accepted.
I went inside and got her a glass of iced water.
I asked if she felt a little better and she responded with a vague shrug-nod that signaled, “Not really.” Eventually I said “Goodbye” and I told her I would see her again soon. I went inside. She stayed on the corner. Three more papers to sell before she could go back to her home which is not really her home. I wondered, of course, “Did I do enough?”
There is no grand “lesson” or “moral” to this story.
There’s nothing I’m urging you (the person reading this) to charge out there and do.
This is just me, saying quietly (mostly to myself):
“I hope I helped this woman to feel less alone in the world, even just for a few moments. I hope she will find a reason to stay alive.”
What else can be done?
When there is nothing to say, and no shiny, easy 6-step solution, there is only eye contact, and touch, and a silent prayer from one human being to another:
“Try to stay here if you can.”