It was an unlikely place to find me: walking the strip in sin city, USA. While I have grown to value the simple, ordinary day with it's gentle ups and downs, perhaps I had become boring and needed a change in perspective.
Perhaps I needed a little Vegas in my life. To show me once again that no matter the reputation of a place or a people, no one can take God out of anything.
He's in every moment of life. The Quaker understanding of God in everyone is often conceptualized by the metaphor of an inner Light within. In times of darkness, it's easy to find small sparks of light that fill us with hope. But under a bright sun with millions of casino lights, the silent flicker of a soul weakened by desperation is often overlooked.
She sat on a pedestrian walkway suspended over a stream of taxis and gamblers, over men and women advertising Girls! Girls! Girls! with one-eight hundred numbers emblazoned on bright orange t shirts. They boldly promoted the oldest business in the world by offering graphic cards that floated to the concrete in a blizzard of paper breasts. (Look up at that! we suggested repeatedly to Elliot.) He looked up at the screaming roller coasters, the recreated skyline of New York, the dizzying spectacle of flashing colors. We remembered that Vegas and this golden era is created and maintained by people who have lost their money, their dignity, and even their lives. Knowing that, it was difficult not to be swept up into a feeling of WOW. It was challenging not to feel the pull of festivity and release from responsibility and work. I was just going along with the flow of the party when she appeared. I saw a small young woman sitting on the side, her back to the lights, her head tucked into her chest, holding a small cardboard sign around her shins and a cup in her lap. The sign read,
"A MOTHER. Can't pay the Rent."
And it didn't make sense. Surely, with all of the opportunity for work in this place, a woman could find a way to pay the rent.
A panhandling woman in this city just didn't make sense. There were hotel rooms to clean, restaurants galore, casinos to sweep, children to care for, people to serve everywhere for any need or want or habit. In fact, Vegas is a place where independent people like me face a difficult adjustment. Dependence upon service chokes out the opportunity to take on even the most ordinary tasks like grocery shopping or driving.
A MOTHER sat with her chin tucked so tightly to her chest that I had to say "excuse me" three times before she looked up into my face. I was stunned by her clear green eyes and freckles, her youthful face and curly brown hair. I wanted to sit down beside her and ask her to tell me everything, or anything. Instead, I offered a small amount of cash. In a clear yet timid voice, she said, "thank you, very much." I then said something about taking care of herself and smiled.
Then later I was full of regret. Why didn't I sit beside her and listen? Everything about her seemed out of place. I had the sense that it might have been her very first day of panhandling. But to assume such a thing might make me a fool.
So I'm left with not knowing her story, discontented to come home full of questions. The only thing to do is to keep remembering "A MOTHER." In prayer. May she always be strong enough to beg before selling her body. May she learn that panhandling is just a patient way to wait for kindness to arrive. Let shame melt away by the candle of her inner light. May she find shelter, hope, community, the support of friends and random strangers, and a life full of abundant goodness.
Coming soon... a post about Richard's competition, our new friends, and an inspiring story about our US Coast Guard. Have a great week!