A few of years ago I was part of an outreach program for homeless people during the winter seasons.
We supplied hot meal to rough sleepers in the evenings. It was a humbling experience. It changed my perception about rough sleepers.
I met some interesting people. Everyone had a story. There was one woman named Elizabeth, whose story have stuck with me over the years.
She was sitting by an ATM cash machine. She was a big woman with long unkempt dark-brown hair, lovely eyes. She looked middle aged. She kept herself warm with a large quilt. She had near her two packed carrier bags, I noticed one of the bags was packed with load of books.
I approached her with a friendly face and offered our curry chicken with rice. She was so delighted.
“Oh yes, I don’t mind if I do, thank you very much, God bless you”, she exclaimed. “Do you know”, she went on, “I prayed for something special today, something warm and delicious, it smells delicious, did you cook it?”
“No, I didn’t cook it, enjoy and keep warm” I said.
I marvelled at her cheerfulness and the gratitude with which she received the food.
Many of the rough sleepers were not always so friendly. She was different. As I turned to walk off, she asked me if I was a Christian, I nodded. She gave me a big smile and said.
“Me too. Look I read my bible every day”. She pointed to a big bible on top of the carrier bag loaded with books.
I didn’t succeed in hiding my surprise to see an opened bible. My expression gave me away because looking straight into my face, she said.
“Ooh yes, it wasn’t always like this, y’know”. I felt embarrassed and didn’t quite know what to say, so I said.
“Which church did you go to?” She looked in me in the face again and smiled. She said.
“What you really want to know, is what happened to me”. She was right.
She had been homeless for nearly two years. Without going into much details, she explained how one too many of life’s catastrophes had gotten the better of her. She told me how a week before her mortgaged house was repossessed, she packed a few essentials and decided to become homeless, and to live on the streets.
“The hardest decision of my life”, she said, “Am I better for it?” she continued, “Probably not, but I’ll tell you this, now, I have no expectations, no plans, no worries for today nor tomorrow and the future doesn’t even come to mind, now that I’m better for and I’m grateful for it”! She seemed amused. I said nothing.
“You can judge me,” she said. “I know I took the easy way out. I lost the plot. The homeless lifestyle is not harder than I anticipated. I love being free, debt no longer weighing me down. I’ve met many people in my shoes, just like myself they too couldn’t afford the life they’d been trying to have. Anyway, I know God is with me and that is all that matters”, she added quietly.
“Thank you for sharing your story with me,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” she smiled, “thank you for the hot food”.
“You’re welcome”, I said. I walked away feeling flabbergasted. I could not believe that someone so eloquent in her manners make a conscious decision to live on the streets.
Her story expanded my perspective and renewed my compassion because we are all in the same boat on a rough and storming sea, it is only that a great many can weather the storms better than others.
The moral of this story is do not judge anyone until you hear their story.
Thank you for reading.