Monday, December 8, 2014

Two Mothers

I haven't written a blog post in two years.  But for some reason, I felt the need to write about something that happened today.  I don't ever want to forget it.

When I was leaving Target today, I saw a woman sitting in the middle of the parking lot in a wheelchair.  I stopped to ask if she was OK.  She pulled out a folder, and with shaking hands, showed me a stack of about 20 pieces of paper.  Each paper had information about various homeless shelters - how much they cost per night, how many nights one could stay, how many nights a person must wait before he/she is allowed back again.  She was beside herself because she had run out of options.  She asked me if I knew of any shelters other than the ones in her folder.  Sadly, I did not.  I told her about a nearby motel I know of that provides rooms for homeless people at a low rate.  She finished my sentence for me - she knew exactly which motel it was - and said she needed $59 for one night and $80 for two.  I had no cash on me, so I offered to call the motel and put the room on my card; the motel won't accept a third-party payment over the phone.

I asked her if we could go back into Target to have some coffee together.  We got inside and found the Starbucks was closed, so I took her over to the cafe and told her to order whatever she wanted.  She ordered a soft pretzel and a drink, but their soda fountain was out of order.  So then we went over to a checkout line, where she picked out a Gatorade and some beef jerky.  I paid for it with my debit card and requested cash back and gave her money for the motel.  She began to cry and asked if she could hug me.  I leaned down to hug her, and she hugged me hard and for a long time.  She cried as she told me of a man who passed her in the parking lot and called her white trash.  She told me how embarassed she was to have to accept the money and said that she never thought she would be a person who had to ask for money because she had nowhere to sleep.  I told her that there are many of us that could easily end up in the same situation if one thing in our life went wrong - a lost job, a medical condition, a bad accident.  She promised me she would pay it forward when she could.  She kept telling me she wanted me to know she meant it.  I told her I knew she would pay it forward in whatever way she could.  

We headed over to the tables, and we sat and talked for about 30 minutes.  She ate her pretzel.  I helped her open her drink, as her shaking hands made it impossible.  She told me she had a college degree in accounting but had to stop working due to her MS, which was diagnosed 16 years ago when she was pregnant with her son.  "How can I hold down a job when I don't know from day to day what my body will do?" she asked.  She has gone through periods of blindness, the inability to feed herself, and has been unable to walk for awhile.  We talked about raising kids.  Her son is 15 and in the 11th grade.  "I must have done something right if he's a grade ahead and doing well!"  She told me that social studies is his favorite subject, smiled and said, "He must get that from his father!"  We talked about the education system, jobs we've held, classes we enjoyed in college.  She told me about her dream of having an apartment and a job that gave her life meaning  When it was time for me to leave to get the kids, I said, "I'm going to ask you a weird question.  You said earlier you need help using the bathroom.  Do you need to go now?  I can help you transfer."  She said, "That's not a weird question at all.  You are so kind to ask.  I'm fine now."  We hugged again, and she thanked me and promised me again she would pay it forward when she could.  I helped her get her things together and get her gloves on; her shaking hands made these menial tasks difficult.  We shared one final hug and wished each other a Merry Christmas.

I don't think I will forget her any time soon.  I hope I never forget her.  Sometimes I need a reminder of all of the things I have to be grateful for.  I need a reminder of how important it is to raise children who have empathy and a sense of humanity.  I need a reminder that my job as a professor is so much more than teaching psychology.  Every day is an opportunity to help my students debunk the myths about marginalized groups that maintain racism, classism, sexism, and ableism.  Each interaction with my students is a chance to give them the skills and ignite the passion necessary to work for social justice.

Lately, I have been struggling with what I believe regarding religion and spirituality.  I do know that there is something bigger than me out there.  I believe that that bigger thing creates "synchronicity" - the things that seem like they might be coincidences, but there has to be something bigger and intangible to explain them.  Meeting this woman today was a bit of synchronicity.  We were meant to cross paths because there was meaning for me to make today from our interaction.  I hope there was meaning for her as well.  I think there was.