Wednesday, December 19, 2007

sliding doors

I was at the grocery store last night and noticed a woman sitting outside panhandling. She asked me for some change so I stopped to talk to her and to give her a few bucks. She didn't have a place to sleep and was obviously struggling with some mental health issues. I asked her if she knew about our program and she did but didn't think she could stay there because she'd lost her ID. I assured her that wouldn't be a problem but she persisted, a long rambling dialogue about district attorneys and some other things I didn't really understand.

I asked her if she would be willing to go if I promised she'd get a bed and she said yes so I pulled out a card and wrote please give N__ a bed tonight on it and handed it to her. I realized that a better thing to have done would have been to drive her there myself but I didn't offer that, because I felt nervous for what was probably no good reason. While I was sitting on the curb with her a man stopped and handed me a couple of bucks. This isn't the first time I've been mistaken for a homeless person and yet I felt the urge to say Hey dude, I'm not homeless but instead I thanked him and handed her the money because it felt insulting to define myself so separately from her. She thanked me for passing on the cash and I got up and left her there sitting in the cold.

I felt like an asshole the whole way home for leaving her there and when I came in the house I told J about it and he said what do you want me to do, drive back and pick her up and take her to the shelter? Well yes, actually. I replied. But he wasn't going for it and I couldn't blame him because I wasn't comfortable doing it either. Sometimes the fear keeps me silent, keeps me from doing what is right. I think of M in those moments and my ultimate responsibility to her but it doesn't really assuage the fact that a woman was still out in the cold, her destination several miles from where I left her.

41 comments:

JCK said...

Our fears often bind us, but you reached out your arms and connected with this woman. And offered her help. Hold onto that. Rather than what you didn't do.

kristen said...

you helped her honey, you gave her money and the chance for a bed. and while i know that it hurts your heart that you don't know for certain whether she slept in that bed, you did what you could.

never doubt your instincts when you feel fear or someone is 'off' or any of those 6th sense warnings. unwarranted or not, if you felt uncomfortable, you were right to not take her to a bed. being confined in a car, where you have no opportunity to protect yourself should it go ugly...well, i'm just glad you didn't.

much love. xo

Sober Briquette said...

Do buses run at night? (here they don't so much)

Can you call a cab for free if the fare refuses to ride? Would the cost of the cab have been more than what you (and the guy) gave her? Would a cab even respond, or refuse the fare himself?

It has been SO cold here, and I have seen people walking in ridiculous (unsafe) situations because the snow hasn't been cleared from the sidewalks. I've thought about offering people rides, too, but it's just too dangerous.

I have to think that anyone who is homeless (by this I mean an unemployed street person - we don't SEE the families) and lives in a northern climate must have mental issues.

thordora said...

Your gut might know something you don't. I know if I'm in the middle of a rage, you do NOT want to be in a car with me alone. If I was homeless and in a manic rage state....eek.

Do what you can to assist and retain your safety. You are important to. You can't help the many if you sacrifice yourself for the one.

QT said...

I am with everyone else so far - you have to trust your gut. And it's not like you walked by her without a care in the world - you stopped, you talked to her, gave her money and some options.

You have such a big heart.

Suz said...

I agree. Instincts exist for a reason and you did do a great deal to help her.

Beck said...

It IS hard, but your first responsibility is for your child.

Kyla said...

Jen, baby. If there is one thing I know about you, it is that you have a heart of gold. If there are two things I know about you, it is that you have a heart of gold and intuitive instincts. Listen to them when they speak to you, they've led you well before.

You did good. You do good.

liv said...

jen, can i just say that getting the opportunity to read about the contrasts in your feelings/fears/etc.. makes me admire you all the more?

Oh, The Joys said...

Be good to yourself, friend.

xo.

nengaku said...

Jen - I think we have to listen to those instincts. A couple of times I have ignored them - just discounting them as irrational fear - and both times ended up in serious trouble. Once a guy I picked up ended up in the DTs in my car and I was not really equipped to handle that. Another time a guy told me he wasn't carrying any drugs and then, when we got to the international border his entire story started to change. Scared the crap out of me - fortunately he *wasn't* carrying but everything else he told me was apparently a lie. Unless all the lies were told to the customs people.
Of course there have been many many times I felt a little anxious but went ahead and took the risk and nothing bad happened. But "a little anxious" feels different than "danger, danger, Will Robinson!" in your head. Right?
Oh - also - you've been tagged.
I didn't know what a meme was this morning but then I got tagged. You can see my answers at
http://nengaku.blogspot.com/2007/12/crazy-8s.html
Now it's YOUR TURN! (sorry)
Peace

Amy Y said...

YOu have to listen to your mother instinct, Mama. It's hard but your responsiblity lies first and foremost with your family. She understood...

flutter said...

You are far from an asshole. Most people wouldn't have paid attention to her at all.

Remember what you said to me once, it's about the humanity? The treating someone like they are human, if even for a moment?

Assholes don't do that, you did.

kgirl said...

Jen, you do so so much.

You know that sometimes circumstances do leave the people you help, well, unpredictable.
Don't forget that while putting yourself out there to protect them, you also need to protect yourself.

I just want to squeeze you so hard right now.

Laurie said...

Everything changes when you have a child. You did the right thing, in my opinion. And you do much more than most, so please don't feel badly. You are an incredible lady, filled with love and light.

mamatulip said...

I think just by acknowledging her and making the distinction not to define yourself separately from her when the man gave you money, you helped her.

I really do.

Redneck Mommy said...

Trust your gut. Sometimes it rings alarm bells for a reason other than to induce yet another guilt trip on your sensitive soul.

You did help her. Remember that. And be kind to yourself.

Amy Barry said...

I know that feeling. I would have done the same and probably felt the same. No, I am quite sure you did more for her than I would have done.

So many times I would like to stop and give someone a ride, or offer our studio attached to the back of our detached garage as shelter for a homeless person, or someone who is inbetween homes. I would like to become a foster parent. But I am afraid. Someday I will overcome my fears and act I hope. I am sure the rewards are worth the risk. But it is the stories we hear about risks gone horrible bad that always hold us back.

meno said...

You were nervous for a reason, you may not know the reason, but it is still there and valid.

painted maypole said...

oh this fear. i know it. you do so much more than most people, jen, and your kindness in sitting there with her is astounding.

this reminds me of a post I read by jenn over at I serve the queens, which I was going to submit for the just posts at the end of the month!

slouching mom said...

pay attention to thordora's comment. i think she's right. you have finely honed instincts, i'm sure you do. if you feel uncomfortable, there's likely a reason.

Jenn said...

Oh jen.

Dear, dear jen.

cinnamon gurl said...

Like everyone else has said, I have to think that with all your experience, your instincts are spot on. And you did help.

Mrs. Chicky said...

Women's intuition? I say follow that feeling. If something didn't sit right with you there was probably a good reason. And you still did right by her which is a helluva lot more than most would have done.

crazymumma said...

humph. this was something I was beating myself up about the other day.

I was thinking to myself, here you are, all good and giving a few bucks here a kind word there and good intentions all over the damn place.

yet.

would you invite Tony or Darlene home for a meal the way you did for Rosie when you were a child?

no. Why? fear. and I ask myself. Fear of what?

And in the same breath Jen. You cannot help everyone the way they need to be helped. You could drive yourself mad with that kind of thinking. You did good enough Jen and that is far more than many.

Jennifer said...

Yes, yes, yes. The Gift of Fear. You have helped so many, have done so much, and I am willing to be that many of those times you didn't hold back. You did this time, and there was a reason. You helped and you kept yourself safe. Two very good things.

Susanne said...

This is one of the comments where I don't quite know what to add after so many good things have been said before me but my first reaction was, "You can't save everybody." Also I too think that you can trust your instincts.

I liked that J asked you what you wanted him to do about it ...

KC said...

Safety comes first. You have great intuition and an even bigger heart.

Candy said...

We live in a scary world, let's face it. The kindnesses you do help others. You can't help everyone though, and ultimately your responsibility is to yourself, your child, your family. You're still a good person. Just keep doing what you're doing.

cce said...

You've done way more than many of us, just by handing her a few dollars and a the solution to her immediate problem - shelter. The rest is in her hands. Be well with yourself and know that you do all that you can.

Jen M. said...

You are truly a rare breed of person.

I think I would have protested that I wasn't homeless - and your point was seared into me.

You made me think, and on only one cup of coffee!

Aliki2006 said...

Yes, but you have to walk that line--to wrestle with doing good and being cautious. And you do it so well and help so many in the process...

Mommy off the Record said...

You did what you could. Many people wouldn't even have stopped. You can feel good that you offered her what help you could.

jo! said...

I read your blog all the time (which feels so stalkerish, but i am hoping you won't be creeped out). I do a lot of social justice ministry and service with my job, so i like hearing other people's experiences as a way of centering. Plus, I so enjoy your writing! Anyway, I recieved this in an email today and wanted to pass it along to you.

The Work of Christmas

"When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart."


Have a blessed holiday!

Janet said...

You are immersed in homelessness. I think that makes your instincts more finely-tuned than the average persons. You listened to yourself, but you also listened to her.

You did good.

Julie Pippert said...

Jen, don't let your compassion overwhelm your gut instincts. You are NOT the sort to be irrationally afraid. Nothing may have happened but you felt caution and fear for GOOD reason. Yes even the mentally ill need help and they ought to have it, and fear shouldn't stop it totally. But it should in some cases. You didn't know her or what you'd be dealing with and you did help.

You stopped. You respected her. You gave her tangible help.

That's so much more than most.

Julie
Using My Words

The Expatriate Chef said...

Don't be hard on yourself. Instincts are important. You have so much experience with homeless people, you know when to fear, and you listened to your feelings. I am glad you are safe. I am sure the woman was grateful.

ms chica said...

We make many changes in our lives when we become aware others rely on us. Some these changes inhibit our free-spirit and make us question whether responsibility is all that responsible.

You did the right thing, and it sucks when doing the right thing doesn't feel right.

bgirl said...

i am only echoing what's already been said by so many. you did so much, gave her something beyond your change which is much more than many.

Daisy said...

Your generosity outshines most. Whether she took advantage of the bed or not, she now has a little cash and the chance to take shelter.

Ally said...

Jeez, Jen, I really feel you on this one. I often stop myself from doing what I really know is right because I'm concerned about safety; overly nervous for what may or may not be a good reason. I'm thinking about my kids, my responsibility to them, to be here and be around and be their mother forever. But I feel that same way that you did here, like I've failed in the other realm, and left the person miles from where they should be.