It was my usual Saturday morning routine – a quick stop at Wawa on my way to the mental health support group meeting I lead to splurge on my favorite coffee (hazelnut with hazelnut creamer and a touch of sugar – a/k/a hot ice cream). As I stood at the coffee bar perfecting my brew, I noticed a woman outside sitting alone, her head bowed, crying. She was wearing black sweatpants and a black hooded ski-type jacket that was fully zipped and velcroed up tight, exposing only her eyes and nose. I stood there stirring my coffee, frozen momentarily by the duality of my thoughts – one side persuading, “see if she’s ok” – the other side dissuading, “you don’t have the time.”
“Do you see any marshmallows?” I was abruptly jarred out of my mental dilemma. I glanced at the young man looking inquisitively at me from the other side of the coffee bar. “Oh, sorry, no…” As he expounded on the wonders of mini marshmallows in coffee, my gaze drifted back to the woman. How many had noticed her? Not sure what I was looking for in response, I stated, “I couldn’t help but notice that woman sitting there. She’s quite upset.” He turned to look at her. “Yeah, she’s really crying.” Again, I voiced my thoughts, “I’ve been debating whether to approach her,” I said, “but I’ve got a meeting in 15 min.” He nodded with understanding, “That’s a tough one.”
I made my way to the cashier, paid for my coffee, walked out the door, and somehow convinced myself to walk toward her. Hands shoved deep inside her jacket pockets, she glanced up for only a brief second when I stopped to stand next to her. A half-full black garbage bag, presumably with her belongings, lay at her feet. “Are you ok?” I asked. “Yes, m’am,” she quietly said, head downcast. I hesitated. “Are you sure?” “Yes, m’am.” Was there nothing she needed? “Ok,” I said, not believing her, “I hope you have a nice day.”
I slowly walked back to my van, feeling that I was somehow missing something. As I got in and shut the door, the homily our pastor had just given the Sunday before came back to me. He had recounted how, on one very cold, rainy day, he had helped a woman who was standing outside of a 7-11, a tattered suitcase beside her, soaking wet from spending the night on the beach. Seeing and listening to her needs, he went and secured a hotel room for her for the next two days. Then, he went on to tell us, the very next day, he baptized a baby at Mass, and afterwards the father of the child gave him an envelope – inside was the exact amount he had paid the hotel for the woman’s room. He related the story to us, he said, not to pat himself on the back, nor to say that in every instance will we get such clear affirmation from God. But, if we want to see the face of Jesus or hear His voice in our life, he said we need only to look and listen to the faces and voices of the people who cross our path in daily life. “God comes to us disguised as our life.” (Richard Rohr) These type of “God moments” of listening and responding are not just reserved for the clergy or people who spend a lot of time in church, but are there for each of us. Father’s closing words, “Listen, see, respond by taking action, then share your God moments with one another,” pointed the way for me, just as Eli had pointed out the way for Samuel and Andrew had pointed out the way for Simon (Peter).
Without hesitation, I reached into my wallet and took out the cash I had. As I walked back to her, she seemed surprised and perhaps a little annoyed that I was approaching her again after she had told me she was ok. She put her head down as I stretched out my hand with the folded bills and asked, “Will you accept this?” She slowly nodded and looked up at me as she took the money in her hand. It has been said the eyes are the windows to the soul. I only held her gaze for less than a minute, but the look in her eyes could have written a novel. I will never know her story, but I could see and feel her fear, her loneliness, her beaten down spirit…and, her true gratitude. Putting my hand on her shoulder, I said, “Thank you, and may God bless your day.” Without waiting for her to respond, I turned and walked away, knowing I had found the missing piece in my response.
Like my pastor, I am not sharing this “God moment” to toot my own horn. God knows, approaching her was way outside of my comfort zone. It would have been far easier to have gone ignorantly on my way without engaging her. She could have reacted in a thousand different ways, some perhaps unpleasant. In the past, I would have instantly pushed aside any inspiration to offer her money, judgmentally presupposing what she was going to do with it. This time I saw, I listened to that interior prompting, and I responded by taking action as I felt I was being called to do.
I have often wondered about her. What was her story? Untreated mental illness, domestic problems, drug addiction, prostitution, a transient on the move, just a fluke of circumstances? A million possibilities. But that day, her life’s story touched mine as well as the story of that young man at the coffee bar. How we were each affected is as different and individual as we bothare. The young man may have felt sympathy for her situation, but it was empathy – being able to place myself in her shoes – that drove me past my own discomfort to reach out to her, As for the woman, I can only pray that she knew, in those moments, that she wasn’t invisible and that her life mattered to someone.
Our pastor was right. “God moments” are present in the little and big events of our lives every day – in our families, our co-workers, our friends, and even strangers. They are an opportunity for us to hear and answer God’s call, allowing Him to work through us to touch humanity in ways we could never do without His grace. And those “God moments” need to be shared, allowing us all to see God working in each other’s lives. God, in His Divine Providence, gave me the grace to see, hear, and respond to a woman crying outside a Wawa on a chilly Saturday morning. Those few moments have touched my life in a spiritually profound way (and Wawa coffee will never be the same…). As I sit here writing this, somehow it doesn’t surprise me He knew I would be inspired to write about her, uniting her story to those who would be inspired to read this and who will perhaps be moved to pray for her as I often do.
“Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten.
Give me Your eyes so I can see.”
Give Me Your Eyes, Brandon Heath