Yesterday, I was working on my newsletter when a staff member asked what happened to the candy jar. By way of explanation, I usually keep some Lifesavers in my office as a reminder of what we do. I took them to a meeting a few days ago, and they’ve been living in my trunk ever since. Eager to go outside, I volunteered to run out to get them.
On my way, I saw a strange sight – an obviously stolen grocery cart loaded with clothes and bags and pillows. I’ve lived downtown for a little over a decade, and I am pretty familiar with the homelessness that this indicates. I’ve also been told that on occasion a homeless person will bathe in the creek that runs through the ravine near my office, although I’ve not seen it myself. Upon a closer look, this grocery cart was not the typical – the contents were pristinely neat and tidy, and the duffle bags looked both new and cared for. It was parked near the door of my office building, and while the owners were nowhere to be seen, it was clear that they were down on their luck. So, I ran back to my office and put the snack apples from my office fruit bowl on top of their things. Something still felt strange about the whole situation, so I went across the hall to see if anyone knew the story of the cart.
To make a long story short, the cart and its belongings were the property of a young couple. A Board Member for another organization in my building saw the two young people crying on the sidewalk and brought them in for help. As their story unfolded, it was an all-too typical story: two young people left their small town in Southeastern Ohio in search of jobs and a better life. All alone in the world, they did what they could in order to make a go of it, and they failed. A job at a fast-food restaurant brought in $600 every two weeks, but the money didn’t last. They lost their housing. Moving from cheap motel to cheap motel caused them to lose their jobs. Parents of limited means had already sent them money, but could or would not send any more. The girl, about 20, told us about her two-year-old son, living with his grandparents because she cannot take care of him. With hesitant pride she told me that she hadn’t lost custody, she just was leaving him with her parents for a few months while she tried to make a better life for her and for him. Through a combination of luck, human kindness, and probably their own wiles they had been managing for a few weeks, until they landed in a motel last night where they were robbed of the rest of their money and their phone. Kicked out, the took a grocery cart that someone else had left in the alley, loaded up all of their worldy possessions – two duffel bags and two pillows, and made their way down the street. No job. No money. No transportation. No idea of what to do next. And then, they landed at our door.
When they arrived, my colleagues across the hall tried to help them. The shelters were full, and there is no one who could take them in. They didn’t want to be separated, probably because outside of a grocery cart of belongings they have nothing but each other. The lunch hour was long past, but when offered leftovers of fruit and bread from a meeting in the conference room, they devoured the food, eventually admitting that, aside from a bag of hard candies, they hadn’t eaten in a few days. It seemed strange to me, but later I realized that they most likely picked the hard candies because their hungry bellies could suck on them for a few minutes and think it was food. The young girl voiced a scared excitement that she thinks she is pregnant, but doesn’t understand how because a clinic put her on an IUD and told her she couldn’t get pregnant. She said she thinks she can feel a little flutter in her belly and asked if she looked pregnant. We let her know that birth control fails and assured her that despite the odds everything would be ok. My colleague at the pregnancy resource center outlined what they could do to help her.
After some discussion, we were able to ascertain that they could go back home to family, but had no way of getting there. We formed a plan to get them bus tickets back to their town, pregnancy tests and pregnancy help back in their hometown, and helped to arrange a ride to one of their parents’ homes once their bus arrived. When I say “formed a plan,” I primarily mean that a few of us around the office pooled our own money to buy them tickets home, buy them dinner, etc.
When we shared with them what we were doing, the young girl cried. She then told us that things had been going really well, they thought that they were finally going to be able to make it in the world, and that she was hopeful that maybe she could be reunited with her son. Then, they were robbed. She then voiced the eternal words that we all wonder in our darkest hours, “What did I do to deserve this?” As she cried, I did something that I tell our volunteers on the sidewalks never to do, as tempting as it may be: I wrapped my arms around that little girl and let her cry. I then told her that she does not deserve this life – she deserves better and she is better. Bad things happen, but they do not define what we deserve in this life – what we deserve is love.
I had a meeting (and as daring as even I am, I was not going to load two strangers into my car, alone, at night), so we gave them money for a COTA bus and a little extra and told them I’d meet them with their luggage at the Greyhound station, where I was going to buy their tickets home. Beyond wanting to ensure that they made it to the bus stop, we were surprised to learn that there is a “gift fee” associated with purchasing a ticket for another person. The online tickets would cost $30.00 each with a gift fee of $18, but a ticket purchased at the window in cash would cost $54 dollars each. My colleague, frustrated, called ahead to explain the situation to the manager and asked if Greyhound could waive the gift fee to purchase the tickets online or give us the online price in person. While the system didn’t allow for that, the manager did approve us getting a discount normally reserved for an international humanitarian group, and for $38 each we were able to send them home. I had a few minutes after the meeting but before meeting them at the station, so I stopped at the grocery store and bought them a packed lunch each – water, sandwiches, an apple, a banana, some chips, a few packs of nuts, and a cookie – nothing special, really. I also reached out to a dear friend in the area of their hometown with a request that started out, “I know this is a shot in the dark, but do you have any contacts who can help…” and within minutes that friend called around and had a handful of churches and agencies who would be able to help and promises of prayers to aid this young couple. I hugged them again at the bus station, struggling to find the words to fill their hearts with hope despite the hardships I know they will face.
I do not know what the future holds for this young couple. Before we decided to send them home we asked if home was safe – too many kids run away from bad situations. These two were quite clear that home was safe; they just had come to Columbus on a failed effort to build a better life. With limited education and an uncertain safety net of family and friends back home, I do not know what will happen to them. I also do not know if they were simply scamming some nice but gullible women; I don’t think so, but it is possible. It doesn’t matter even if they were. They were hungry, and we fed them; they claimed to be lost, and we sent them home. They felt alone, and we loved them. Isn’t that what we are called to in this life?
So many people think that the pro-life movement is about protesting abortion or stopping euthanasia. To some degree, it is, but if we stop there we have not fulfilled our mission. Our mission is to protect and defend life from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death. Yes, we oppose abortion. Yes, we oppose euthanasia. We, however, should never lose sight of the reason we oppose abortion and euthanasia: because we cherish Life and because we believe in the intrinsic value and dignity of all human life, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, ability, orientation, religion, or economic circumstance.
We are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. Christ has told us that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do for Him. We are reminded to humbly accept our blessings knowing that there but for the grace of God go I. There is no doubt in my mind that this young couple was sorely in need of love, that they were truly the least of our brothers and sisters, and that I am humbly thankful to have never faced the same circumstances and depth of need that they do.
When I started writing this, I was not sure where it would end. I even debated writing it at all, after all – we are called to do our good deeds in private and not for public applause, but I knew I needed to say something. Part of me wanted to rail against a system that has allowed two young people to slip through the cracks. Part of me is frustrated by a community where two kids cannot find a job. Part of me thinks that there has to be a better way for the free market to handle the wages for unskilled labor. Part of me is beyond annoyed that the bus ticket was nearly twice the cost for a person without computer access or a credit card in his name. I openly sobbed at the thought of anyone using her last $4 to buy hard candy hoping it would stave off the hunger pangs for a few days. I wonder how in this land of plenty any single person goes hungry, and I am sorrowful that when confronted with someone in need, our first instinct is to wonder if we are being scammed. Our first instinct should be to feed the person who is hungry. We should look at our neighbors – even those who live on the street - not with the jaded eyes of a skeptic, but with a blindness to everything but their innate dignity as human beings. When truly see another with those eyes, we cannot do anything but love the other. Does that mean we give $20 to the addict? Of course not. But if she is hungry, we feed her. If he is cold, we clothe him. If she is in danger, we protect her. If he can’t find a job, we help him. We do this over and over again until we realize that here is where true beauty lies, and then we call into mind, Since love grows within you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul.
This is what it means to be joyfully, abundantly, and robustly pro-life.
In the end, I am grateful. I am grateful that someone plucked this couple off of the street. I am grateful that they were brought to people who would help them, not take advantage of them. I am grateful that I work within a community that is loving, with people who will do whatever it takes to help another. I am grateful that I ran out to my car for Lifesaver and instead got to change a life. I am grateful to the manager at the bus station who did what he could. I am grateful for the friend who answered my call for help in a small town. Mostly, I am grateful for the fact that I could, for a single moment, be the face of Christ to these two. It was truly an honor. Lastly, I would be grateful if, upon reading this, you never once think “good job, Beth, you deserve a pat on the back,” and instead you say “I will be the face of Christ to someone today, and tomorrow, and every day.”