They’re at every intersection in Nashville. The people selling their papers. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, “They don’t look like they’d be homeless. Wonder what their story is.” And then I remember.
Not so long ago I was lost. This wasn’t the Jesus’ salvation kind of lost, but the sort where my intuitive self got trapped in an unmanageable jumble. I was very alone in the world of depression and anxiety. People who survive well inside their own heads mystify me. I’m not like that. I need community. I need to check in with people to make sure my plans and ideas make sense. I’m so very envious of the folks who can think out something without ever conferring with another human being. I find it both fascinating and terrifying. What I do know is that when I listen to the voice within and seek out the wisdom of the people God sends my way amazing things happen.
During my homeless period a morning came when I was wondering where I’d be spending the next few days. My time where I had been staying was up and I had to move on to the next place. It had been like this for a few weeks. All my belongings were in a friend’s garage while I sorted out my next place of employment and a permanent address. A friend made me say aloud, “I am homeless” to help me wrap my head around the realness of my present state. A woman who worked with the local homeless population said, “You know you are eligible to sell The Contributor”, a local paper written and sold by those living on the street in Nashville. The words ricocheted around inside my bruised mind.
I was tired, scared, and grateful for friends who called with places and people who needed a house sitter or who were open to having someone stay in their home for a while. Rules changed with every new accommodation. Some places were not available to me during daylight hours. One time I was so desperately tired after a long night that I pulled off the road to nap for a few minutes before driving to another location. On this hot day when I fell asleep in my car under a tree, the occupant of a nearby house called the police about a woman who “looked suspicious” at the end of his sidewalk. The officer who came by was kind enough when I explained I had worked all night and a tiredness came over me such that I had to stop to prevent having an accident. What I didn’t say was that I had once owned a house in that very neighborhood. What I didn’t do was ask the man who felt threatened by my weary self what it was that caused him to feel afraid of me. I drove to a place where a dumpster blocked a small drive that would hide me while I slept until I could go “home” to the bed a friend had located.
Before this period I used to worry about becoming homeless and friends would say, “Now you know you could never really become homeless. That’s a fear everyone has at some time or other. That’s not going to happen to you.”
Well, it did, and the three month limit I gave God to sort things out until I had a place of my own again turned into two and half years.
There are levels of desperation within the world of homelessness. I had trappings that allowed me to not appear like I had no home address. My car and a post office box covered me like a tent. But finding a roof and bed in the evenings was when the heaviness of world settled in on me. Friends opened their doors to me for periods of time. I knew no one place would last forever. It didn’t feel right to stay past a certain point and sometimes my inner guide let me know when that was. Sometimes my host would offer a time period. It was never to get rid of me. The kindness of people kept my heart open. I will be forever grateful to the very long list of generous people who shared their space with me.
After conferring with my community who offered me their wisdom and guidance I ended up in divinity school. A fulltime job (finally) gave way to grad school. This was a God inspired thing and I don’t try to convince or prove it to anyone. Two years gone and I accept this is where I am meant to be.
What I know now. The faces at the intersection selling that paper could be mine or yours. There is no us and them. I don’t walk past someone with all their belongings in tow without doing something to acknowledge their humanity and the Imago Dei that is in all of us. When I see someone selling papers I don’t think, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” I am them and they are me. My soul aches because my very tired body once feared that having a physical address, a door to open of my own, would always be just out of my reach. No, my life is not somewhere out away from that intersection. I’m there and so are you. I see intersections as metaphor and we all live there. The gift is when we notice.
-Susan Hudson McBride