Gift From A Stranger
Last June I heard wails of anguish. I startled and looked up from my writing spot. A young woman just outside my second-floor patio was pouring out her soul to another. Pitiful, choking sobs broke the gut-wrenching flow of words and snapped me to my feet. Something horribly was wrong, painfully amiss, and my own distant anguish re-surfaced. I felt again the familiar despair of long ago, so severe it sometimes couldn't be contained—driving me to bang my head against kitchen cupboards in agony of spirit and soul and bite my fists so hard they'd bleed. Who is this young woman? What is her despair?
Another woman came along. Oh, good, I thought, a friend. But the terrible hysteria continued, and I continued to pace. Everything in my soul told me I had to go help. But how? Five minutes went by, ten, fifteen. The “friend” left. Two children came to console. They sat outside my condo fifty yards away, under a tree in the church yard next door. The sobbing continued, so raw I couldn’t stand it.
I drove two miles to Dairy Queen and purchased three dilly bars. By the time I got back, the crying had subsided into an exhausted sobbing, the children hovering and uncertain. Were they hers? I went over with napkins, DQ bag in hand. The instant I approached and asked if there was anything I could do, desolation and hopelessness exploded again.
There's no sorting the chaos of words when they leap about in a spew of volcanic anguish rising from a base of betrayal, threatened homelessness, disability, the impossibility of living on government help, coupled with the scornful disregard society likes to heap on our achingly poor. I realized, by God’s grace, I was the perfect person to sit beside this stranger and listen. For who but me—a single mother of the 1980s and ‘90s, ostracized by the church and without justice from the courts—could withstand this girl’s world without flinching? Long-ago days of hopelessness too great to bear guided me now.
I let her wail, snot pouring from her nose, ice cream melting. Once in a while, I asked a few clarifying questions. The children helped. Neighborhood kids, fond of Lexi for many reasons. Eventually, I got to the root. Two roommates had colluded behind Lexi's back to leave her high and dry at the end of the month, moving out without notice or paying their rent, and—just to rub it in—stole a few of her cherished things. She now faced eviction after living in the same subsidized housing for eleven years. And where was she to get the first and last months’ rent and down payment for a new place? The wailing began again.
My anger blazed. What kind of world have we made for ourselves that the loss of one month’s rent will put a person on the street? This girl needed a breather—and hope. Gratefully, I was in a position to help.
I told her I’d pay July’s rent so she could have some space and time to recover the devastating financial setback.
One of the children said, “You sure are a nice lady.”
I laughed. Lexi gaped. “On my good days,” I quipped to lighten the shock in the wet, swollen face before me.
“Why would you do that?” Lexi blurted out.
“Because I’ve been exactly where you are—and people helped me. If you must know, it seems God wants me to do this. Don't ask me to explain; I can't. I only know that I can't walk away from you.”
“I’ll pay you back,” she blubbered with new tears that held joy.
“No need,” I said, “play it forward when you can.”
Unbelievably, over the next week, she joyfully kept me abreast of how she was managing. In the end, she didn’t need my help at all. This is the power of hope, I thought. It rallies the soul.
We’ve become friends. Occasionally I have her come over to do some housework, my back a growing problem. She's grateful for the cash, I'm grateful for the help.
One day, I was heading out of my complex when I spotted her with her dog, carrying a violin case. I pulled to stop. "Hey, Girl! What's that?"
She was as overjoyed as she’d once been tormented. Her adoptive mother, after years of withholding Lexi's violin, had given it back. Lexi had already signed up for Bellingham’s city orchestra. Of course she had. The moss doesn’t grow under Lexi’s toes.
Just before Thanksgiving I again saw her outside. I went out to the patio. “Hey!” I hollered down.
She looked up, all smiles—so characteristic. “The orchestra is playing in a couple of weeks!” she hollered up.
I went to hear her play last week. Embraced by the heavy Baroque music aloft in a church setting and watching this girl's pretty, happy face, I knew I’d met a truly remarkable woman.
Who is my neighbor? The girl crying outside.
And maybe this is why Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Because our neighbors have so much to give. For me, life is enriched by Lexi's infectious joy, a gift from a stranger I never expected.