The Homeless Woman
The Homeless Woman
It was an early autumn, crisp and cold. Even though no one in the neighborhood had a wood burning stove, I’d been smelling wood smoke for a few days. On one of my runs down the dirt lane west of our house, I pinpointed the location: a highway underpass. The place was next to a rail line where transients were known to congregate.
A few days later, I chanced upon a scraggly woman in an ill fitting knit cap, boots, and a too-thin-for-the-weather jacket. She was in line at the local market. It still haunts me how blank and still she was, as though the person she once was had been completely extinguished.
When I left the store, I stood and watched her walk—slowly, heavily—toward the underpass. I wanted to help, but I was too self-conscious. I was as much a stranger to her as she was to me, and I wasn’t sure what I had to give that would make a difference right then.
I left the parking lot and went home to make dinner. But my mind never left the woman. In a few hours time, I’d forged a grandiose plan to take her blankets, food, and clothing. But it was too late. Since my husband is an EMT, I heard the call…a woman’s body found near the tracks.
I’ve never been homeless, but very near to it. I once spent nights sleeping on a soccer field and in my truck to avoid the violence of an extremely abusive first marriage. And when a few close to me judged me and told me I shouldn’t have married in the first place—that “I’d dug my grave and I had to lay in it”—I, like the woman, felt completely blank and extinguished.
What pulled me through was the simple gift of hope.
The gift of hope is one we can give to everyone around us, and to ourselves. It is the very gift I wish to this day I had tried to give the homeless woman. Of course I can never be certain that kind words and a smile would have kept her from taking her own life. But I also can’t be certain that letting her know I cared wouldn’t have been enough to give her the hope she needed to hang on.
Sometimes pain overtakes us; sometimes it seems we are so, so alone. But if we seek it, hope can come in the form of a beautiful golden sunrise, flower buds bursting with vibrant color, watching a puppy play or a baby bird take wing. Slowing down, breathing in the wonder of the moment, we discover miracles inherent in each day that can rekindle ebbing optimism. Sometimes hope must come from deep inside ourselves, a stubborn determination to never give up. Often it comes from others, and in giving to others. An act of caring, a kind word or a simple, heartfelt smile—because even the smallest things, given in love, can make the greatest difference. #SuicidePreventionWeek