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Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Homeless Heart: MADE FOR GOD

by Susan Fox
“Gimme Shelter,” about a pregnant unwed teen’s struggle to survive on the streets and keep her baby, is popular with movie audiences right now. It is also bringing the reality of what life on the streets is like for many homeless people.
“Inasmuch as you did it to the least of my brethren you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40)
Huge purple bruises covered her face. She limped, carrying a small bag over her shoulder containing all her worldly belongings.
She was an American Indian from Eastern Washington. And I could see clearly she needed comfort. But tragically, I was unable to offer it.
It was 1978. Fresh out of graduate school I was in my first job covering agriculture, business and mining for The Spokesman Review in Spokane, Wash. I had just stepped out of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in downtown Spokane where I had been to the noon Mass.
I had time for a kind word, but I couldn’t offer it.
I was afraid.
I prayed desperately, “Dear God, please send someone like my mother to this woman. Dear God, please.... make me like my mother.”
To understand that prayer, you’d have to understand the way I was raised. I had no brothers, no sisters, no father – just a cat and a Mom. But our life was rich -- rich with needy people.  My Mom worked, but she also visited the sick, ran Catholic discussion groups and did door-to-door evangelization. If someone had no one on Thanksgiving Day, they ate dinner at our table. She always said, “Susan, don’t feel sorry for yourself. Go do something for someone else. That’s the secret of happiness.”
Some of my earliest memories include visiting an elderly man, basically a stranger, who was vomiting as I watched. By the time I was in high school, I sometimes accompanied Mom to visit Mrs. “George.” Mom had gone to the nursing home in Port Townsend, Washington, and asked for the neediest, least visited person there. And they gave her the completely bed-ridden Mrs. George. When we first started visiting her -- I have to admit -- she was a very unpleasant elderly woman. Mom visited her faithfully for at least 15 minutes every week – for 12 years. After seven years, Mrs. George became Catholic. She also became very pleasant.
Mom never preached.
She brought her things to make her happy -- a little radio, romance books, and things to pass the time, nothing fancy. I remember watching Mom lean over the elderly woman. Mrs. George looked up at her with more love than I, her own daughter, showed her. I loved my mother, but my goodness, Mrs. George looked at Mom as if the sun rose and set where she stood.  
Yep, that was real love.
So seeing that Indian woman in Spokane was my Waterloo. Could I help people without my mother by my side?
With my usual impetuousness, I set out to find out. I joined the Servants of Christ, a group that included a nun, two brothers, married and single lay people. Our purpose was to serve “the least, the last and the lost.” The bishop had approved our request to become a pious order.
In connection with that, one of the Servant brothers left a request under my door one morning: “Willard wants to see you. He's in county jail.” I was scared, but I thought I had to go. This was the Lord’s call. In retrospect, no one should send a single woman alone to visit a single man in jail! But I didn’t have any discernment at that stage of my life. I think God understood.

Skid Row Profiles #1
Willard’s Heart: Made for God

by Susan Fox

He worked in the adult book store –
the one they call, “The Rat” –
a cigarette  in his mouth
and a new-grown mustache;
a man and a little class.

He came to us
like the cat
on the Fourth of July --
thrust into the Center by loud noise,
shivering and afraid.
But he chose to stay.
People avoided Willard,
but he never abandoned anyone.

So when he got into trouble,
involving a girl and assault charges later cancelled,
I went to see him.
In jail were the families of those imprisoned there:
we hung around like unwanted children
hunched in the corners, naked with no place to hide.

When I finally got in, I saw the changes:
he’d been there two months
and it was bad.
new wrinkles of pain marked his young face,
his wrist was bound up and broken
and he had eyes
that never rested anywhere.

He’d finally got me there
by kicking and screaming;
and now cool as you please,
a cigarette in his mouth
and a new-grown mustache,
he all but swallowed me.

I was totally unprepared
for the rush of gentleness
he wretched from me.

Willard was the boy
who couldn’t understand
what “sister” meant;
thought it was some form of sexless love,
the kind that can be won over in the end.

He was the boy,
who grew up early
on a warm August night --
when his father was shot in a liquor store hold-up.

The cops were sorry,
but the woman and the child
remembered the second shot -- fired after the first.
In the shadow of his father’s death;
he started life
in the back of a beat-up old pick-up.
In the morning
he woke up -- alone
left behind with the garbage can.

And Willard was the man
with an emotional disability
that landed him in jail periodically;
charged with assault
but with no conviction.
I agreed to meet him that day.
But no amount of womanly  gentleness
will ever satisfy
the paralyzing neediness
of Willard’s human heart.

And so I began the duel identity of my single life: mild-mannered Clark Kent-type news reporter by day and Catholic evangelist by night.

I think my bosses would have been surprised to see what I did while I wasn’t working.

They probably would have wanted a story written about it.

Luckily, they never found out.

So you have it  here first.

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