She wore a long black wool coat. It hung loosely on her body, hiding her size and figure. Her black hair was also long and a bit wild and matted, tinged in grey. I didn’t capture a complete image to bring home with me. Maybe that’s why I love to take pictures. I’m pretty terrible at remembering facial features. (I would be terrible as a witness to a crime.) If I had only had a Rolleiflex camera, I could have looked down into the glass and made one click to capture the beauty of her face.
The homeless. Her dirty backpack, which looked stuffed with her belongings, spoke of her homelessness. Bob noticed her first and asked if we should offer to buy her a beverage. Of course, easy to do as she was sitting at the table next to ours at Starbucks, a bit out of the baristas’ sight, feeling comfortable enough as a non-paying visitor that she took off her snow boots and slipped her feet into soft house slippers. Just a little respite from the cold.
She accepted my offer and requested iced tea. Twenty-five degrees outside and she wanted a cold drink: “Wouldn’t you like something hot?” I offered. “No, just iced tea please.”
She wasn’t surprised that we got her a drink and immediately broke out into conversation, one that I could barely understand. I understood every fourth word she said; later Bob said he got more of it. Children and grandchildren scattered, she hadn’t seen them for over eight years. Now I think of that and wonder if she has their phone numbers. I think of my unlimited calling plan and wonder if she could have used my phone there in Starbucks while I drank my hot mocha.
But I wanted her to have a hot drink.
We think we know what the needy, the homeless and poor need.We certainly think that we know what they need. But there are many reading this who have done mission work and have learned it doesn’t work that way.
She talked quite a lot, but her voice was a problem for me. An accent, years of smoking, an impediment. I couldn’t decipher much of the conversation. I wanted to get going as I was uncomfortable to not be able to respond to much of what she said. Only that she seemed positive about the New Year and said she hoped the last days of this year would also be good. I don’t always feel that hope, and there she was giving it to us in her gravelly, broken voice.
We walked away but I will remember her.
They all have voices. The ones we walk by and turn away from. The ones with signs, begging for change. The Denver homeless even have a newspaper that individuals sell on the 16th Street Mall for two dollars, entitled The Voice. That same day we were in the city I bought one as I always do, but I don’t always take time to read it. I might have even left it behind at one of our other stops.
I want a picture of her to share on this blog page, but I don’t have it. Yet I know the next time you’re in the city, any city, you will see her or him. I want to remember to take time to hear her voice again. Next time I know that I want to be different, be better.