We both knew she was telling me an intentionally deceptive narrative, a story about needing to find the place with the free diapers, so that I might offer to buy her diapers, and give her money for whatever other reasons she needed it. I have met women before in Oakland with the exact same diaper story. But the lie, and the desperation beneath it, wasn’t a reason to not give her my full presence, my heartful compassion, gulping inside the perspective of my own amazingly privileged “challenges” as I reached into her heartbroken eyes.
She told me of her 5 children, and her dead husband prematurely "called home by Jesus," and I listened, wholeheartedly, taking in the anxiety she was emanating, the hopelessness, the fear, the utter exhaustion. How many times have I taken the easier route of saying “No, Sorry...” to whatever the person’s request might be, tossing sincere yet nervous, hurried prayers in their direction? For some reason yesterday, I was called to stop, and attend to her with my full respect and presence. It didn’t matter whether her story was true or not. Her need was true. She is a human being, born of a human mother, and as precious and divine as any other face of life’s expression.
I never carry cash with me when I walk through Oakland, so I really didn’t have anything to give her except my capacity to truly see her, and listen to her. I said: “I’m so sorry. Life is so incredibly challenging isn’t it? And here I am, in my white privileged life, feeling challenged in my own ways, and I have been so lucky and blessed in ways I know you are not. It’s not fair.” She nodded at me, still wiping away tears. I said: “I’m so sorry that it’s so hard. I wish there was some way I could really, truly help. I wish I could help restore your faith.“
Then there was a moment where we just stood there together quietly and we both knew I wasn’t going to give her money, and we both knew her challenges were much greater than needing to find the next $10 under the guise of diapers. We both knew her heart was broken and faith broken under the weight of a broken system and a life that had known way too many losses. And we stood there together and ached inside that truth. We exchanged names, and I offered her my hand, and our eyes met there, inside a true moment of seeing and being seen. And then I walked away to “ecstatically dance” my heart… and she walked away into her next moment of trying to get her needs met.
And I carry her, dear Tiffany, so close in my heart today, her and the countless billions of people who have lost their way, for one reason or another, who have been pummeled and abandoned by The System, who cry genuine tears of broken lives. My heart has to stretch so wide to make room for the pain of our beloved world.