Sunday, June 08, 2008

Although the day before was, overall, a good one, this one was shaping up to be an achy disaster. I felt like I'd been through a wringer, and, atop that feeling, I had to find ways to amuse my son, who was in his second full day of summer vacation.

As the day went on, we were both getting frustrated. I made the decision to drag us both out into the heat and have an outing at the local dog park. It ended up being a literal drag, as the kid wanted to head over in chunky style in his plastic red wagon. We opened the door, I yanked the wagon down our front steps and beheld her, standing by the fence, imploring me with her bleeding hand, "Baby, please, I need me a paper towel or a Band-Aid."

The shock of sudden sunlight and the waves of humid heat lapping at me made this woman at my gate seem almost like a bad dream. "Okay," I automatically said. I admonished my son to stay put in the wagon and I stomped upstairs to get both the paper towels and a bandage.

I instantly realized I'd probably made some kind of mistake. I'd left a five-year-old child down there with a woman I didn't know at all...but our dog was down there with him, so I guess that was all right. What the hell was I doing, anyway? I pushed those thoughts out of my head and concentrated on getting what this woman needed, as well as seeing how bad this injury she had really was.

I came down the steps and took a closer look at her as we wiped the blood off her hands and found that it was only a small cut on one of her fingers, something that could easily be covered with the average-sized Band-Aid I put on it. "Thank you, thank you," she said, and I saw that she looked older than she probably was. She wore a purple t-shirt from a volunteer organization operating in the city and some dark shorts. And she was standing on the burning pavement in bare feet.

"Got any shoes, baby?" she asked.

"No, I'm so sorry," I said, knowing that my feet were too small and any spare shoes I had wouldn't fit her. I could have kicked myself for thinking, much later, that she probably could have used a pair of my husband's shoes.

"S'okay," she said with a small smile. "I am just so thirsty, so if you have some water..."

"Wait right here," I said, thinking to myself, here you go again. Fine, then. I'm leaving my son downstairs with her again. He was taking all of this fairly quietly, although, when I came back down with a squirt bottle full of ice water for her to keep, she was giggling softly at something he'd said to her.

"Here, keep it," I said, giving it to her. She thanked me and walked down the street.

I instantly felt ashamed at my impatience at wanting to get my son to the park through the two treks up and down my stairs. I kept looking back at her as I pulled my son and my dog towards the park in the opposite direction from her, watching to see where she went, wondering what I ought to do from there. I was torn in two.

How could I have helped her more?

Should I go back, or keep going?

Dammit, I should have grabbed a pair of my husband's shoes! They would have fit! I turned back one more time, and she had vanished.

I was sad. I still am sad.

How can I help everybody effectively when I feel like such a mess?

And if I'm feeling this way...what must all the people who are working every day with folks like the woman at my gate be feeling?


Mark said...

Today I read in the preface to a book by Kerouac Allen Ginsberg talking about Kerouac's combination of Catholic charity and Buddhist sympathy. I am sure there is an excellent Hebrew term I do not know which amounts to the same thing.

I think you son was safe not because you left the dog but because you did what you did, as certain as I was that nothing bad would happen to me wandering the margins of St. Thomas when I was tutoring at St. Alphonsos to escape catechism class.

And your some may have learned something about that charity/sympathy/Hebrew-word-I-don't-know-yet if only by absorption which makes you a good person on so many levels.

You started her on a good path, band-aid supplied and water in hand. I am sure she found some shoes today.

Leigh C. said...

The Hebrew term would be "g'milut chasadim", acts of lovingkindness, which actually reminds me of a joke involving a robber and Lubavitcher Jews...

...but the thing that g'milut chasadim can help with, tikkun olam (healing of the world), is the thing that can be most daunting, because it is THE WORLD one is talking about! Trying to do these things is indeed difficult - and if it is so hard on a one to one level, it can be mind-blowing on a large scale. Especially when juggling a restless child...

Mark said...

I am only familiar in a superficial way with tikkun olam (having encountered the magazine Tikkun at some point when I was working in DC), but the world is a big place. I would guess that tikkun olam works in much the same way as sympathy/kindness: one act at a time.

saintseester said...

Yes, L, the world is a big place. You filled a small need. That is one less need she had today. It is a good thing, not a bad thing.