Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Bag Lady Who Haunts My Dreams

[image from corbisimages.com]
She was sitting on the pavement
on a small square of blanket
at the corner of Granville and Georgia.
Ringing her little bell,
she chanted ceaselessly,
"anysparechangeanysparechangeanysparechange?"
She was at least eighty years old,
and it was January cold.

I came to a full. stop.
Fumbling in my bag,
I pulled out a twenty.
It was not nearly enough
to solve this situation,
but it was what I could do,
right now.

As I bent to hand it to her,
her eyes lit up
in disbelief, in joy.
Twenty dollars would buy
something warm to drink,
something to eat,
maybe a treat.
Unexpected wealth
in a life of
bare day-to-day
survival.

"Oh, thank you, my dear!"
her small hand, like a claw,
holding my wrist.
She tried to give me her watch.
Gently, I declined.

I looked into her eyes
and felt fear.
Was I looking at
my own future?
I am always only
a few hundred dollars
away
from the streets.
But I have people
who would not
abandon me.

What was she doing
in her eighties
sitting on the cold
winter pavement,
watching all the legs
passing by?

Why was she not in
a warm facility,
being brought cups of tea
and muffins?
Where was the System,
that left her sitting here?

And where were her people?
Once she was beloved,
with a husband and a home,
with things she dusted,
with tables and chairs,
and warm beds.

What could I do,
to get her some help,
in town for only
this one day?
If I am not part of the solution,
I am part of the system
that leaves her sitting there,
on that cold pavement,
part of the System,
turning away,
moving past
the discomfort,
one more
set of legs
moving on.

Guilt.
Helplessness.
Anger.
Compassion in inaction,
in a world too unbalanced
to ever be set right.

As I walked away,
I could hear her,
still ringing her little bell:
"anysparechangeanysparechangeanysparechange?"

I still see her face,
hear her little bell,
her voice ~ they haunt
my dreams.

8 comments:

  1. This breaks my heart. It will haunt me as well. You painted so vivid a picture. I wish there were some magical solution. I wish there were a realistic one.

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  2. We all have our lessons to learn each life. We most likely have no clue why. That is for us to learn to be and have patience to wait the reason is revealed eventually.
    All our different stories.

    The horrible pain we see is sickening. We have to try and remember their story.

    where did all that come from..lol :)

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  3. She was perhaps an angel, sitting right there at that moment to open you more fully to your own compassionate heart. So beautiful.

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  4. What a heartfelt piece, Sherry... beautifully written. I have never been able to ignore those forced to live on the streets, particularly if they're very old or very young...there is such inequity in the world! The statistic I've heard is that many of us are only two or three paychecks away from being in the same position ourselves...knocks the smugness out of one pretty quickly.....

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  5. I remember her every winter......I like the idea of her being an angel - she had the sweetest nature and smile.........truly lovely. Being from out of town and only there for a day, I wasnt able to do enough. I hope others tried. But Jeff saw her, still there, two months later.

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  6. Such hard questions to answer, especially the why. I also think about how fine a wall of fate protects me from that life, a wall that almost anything outside my control could rupture. I don't know if I would have the courage to shake the bell for very long...beautiful writing.

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  7. Bless you Sherry for your compassion and warm heart.

    Beautiful writing.

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  8. Very touching and beautifully portrayed. Thank you for your kindness that warms even the coldest and hardest piece of pavement
    Y

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