Kathy, a middle aged woman, happened to come by the bus yesterday in Harlem while en route to visit her mom at the retirement home down the street.
“Clothing?” She read aloud on the side of the bus advertising common resources we provide.
She looked perfectly “normal”, a label we - or in this case I, put on people pre ranking their level of need before one word comes out of their mouth.
“I need shoes.”
Looking down at her shoes, they look perfectly good to me.
Pink sneakers. Little wear. Perfectly matching her pink reading glasses.
“Yeah... well, what we have is a list of places you can get clothing at. Would that be helpful?”
Despite my reserve in her neediness, I proceed to help her just like I would help anybody else, laying out what we have, clearly, without overpromising or getting her hopes up in case we cannot deliver on her direct needs at the moment.
A disappointment type of micro expression flashes across her face as she goes on to tell me and one of our volunteers named Amy about how a friend had given her the shoes and they are a size too small, so her feet are crunched in and she can’t move them at all - but at the same time how she is very grateful and appreciative of the list and the hope that something so simple brings.
In that moment, I once again got reminded, like I have so many many many many times prior of how little I know and how much I have to gain continually through what we do.
I was then snapped out of my subpar service and honor given and I was able to see the possibilities that were at hand in really serving and caring for Kathy well.
I then viewed that it was quite peaceful and not too busy at our location, so instead of handing her a sheet of paper and saying good luck on finding shoes next week at one of these random organizations, I said let’s go down the street and buy you shoes right now.
Amy and I walked with Kathy to the shoe store where we found out that she has two grown kids, a son and a daughter, and is living in a working shelter currently - while she applies for jobs and looks for work.
Because she believes in herself and her future (my dream for everybody we serve), she chooses to look presentable to the best of her ability - even if that means wearing used clothing that doesn’t fit her and causes her discomfort.
Even if it costs her the help and care that she deserves because people that are in places of service (me) label her as undeserving based on her desire to have dignity in the midst of hellish circumstances.
I write this all and include a thank you email I received from Kathy this afternoon to say and show you that I am still learning how to love people well - despite how great of a guy you think I am based on my other stories, I’m still learning just like all of you.
I deeply love people desire to love them better. Some days I do a great job, others I royally mess up.
The cool thing about this is there are always more opportunities. More opportunities to love and have compassion. More opportunities to smile, instead of walk on the other side of the sidewalk with your head down. More opportunities to be the glimmer of hope that somebody needed on a cold dark day.
I’m thankful every day for opportunities to love the people around me, as well as having the ability to do it alongside of others - thank you to Amy for listening intently, loving Kathy, and for buying the shoes for her!
Tis’ the season to be jolly, and giving, and joyful - especially on behalf of others who are currently lacking the ability to do it on their own.
Love you all! ❤️