Jennifer by Melissa Rosella

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It was a routine school pick up. That’s when I noticed a homeless woman named Jennifer. She was sitting outside the church office  & asked if there was anyone available to feed her. She complained that she had not eaten for 4 days & her husband was at the park. I told her I had no money & no food to offer.

She looked defeated & broken. Her face looked like it’d been carved out of clay, as it was covered with deep creases & deep wrinkles & deep lines. She looked 100 years old. She had very few teeth. It was hard to understand her words. I’d seen her before.

I told her to walk with us & that we could walk to the deli & get her & her husband of 28 years food. The whole way I listened to her talk about trying to get clean & yada yada yada. No disrespect, but I struggled hearing her through my children catching up after school, the traffic on 56th street, & her lack of teeth.

Think she just wanted to be seen & heard & recognized as a human being,  not just seen as a fixed piece of furniture being passed by. With tears in her eyes, she said thank you. Maybe it was because I looked her in the eye & was not afraid to hug her with both arms, bear hug style. She began apologizing for her dirty clothes & filthy hands & I shook my head. “We all need a little help, sometimes, & I’d like to help you.” Thought of my father. He talks to every single person the exact same way, whether it’s the CEO of a company, the drive thru Starbuck’s worker, the server, or the janitor. They all get treated with kindness & respect & they are seen & acknowledged & recognized. My father is modest & humble & kind & very frugal. He is a simple man. I love my dad.

I remember when Joy, my social worker sister, worked  for an agency that helped people with HIV get back on their feet, receive insurance, administer medication, obtain housing, get best hospital care, & more. She mentioned the importance of building trust, a connection,  and repoire with her clients through using the same pen  when signing paperwork. She made sure to do this every time, so they would absolutely know, without  a shadow of a doubt, that she saw them as people, not as clients.  She cared and she saw her beloved clients as feeling human beings, not specimens. They had hearts & souls & feelings & they needed a little help. My sister did really great work & saved hundreds of people for over 10 years at that  agency. It all started with a caring heart & a giving spirit.

It matters to be seen. People need to be seen. Souls are souls. Hearts are hearts. & that’s it. & we all need a little help from our friends, some  more than others.

We got to the deli & it was swarmed with school kids & they were buying lots & lots of snacks. She ordered sandwiches & chips & drinks. The kids all say that it was a lot of food. They were completely clueless that this is food for a woman & man suffering from hunger pangs, for whom have not eaten for 4 days.

I thought of Jennifer for days. I thought about not having a warm bed, sleeping without a pillow, thought about where she would go in the pouring  rain without an address, where she would get her next meal, if she could shower, if she had toilet paper, and the list goes on & on.

I saw Jennifer riding her bike at Kitchen 56 & then I saw her panhandling at Fry’s with her dog. She wore a dirty jean jacket, matching blue jeans, & sandals with socks. Her hair was matted & her face looked weathered. The AZ. sun is harsh & without sunscreen there is no getting away from it.

I woke up yesterday morning & thought it would be nice to pack a bag full of food & necessities. I included: peanuts, string cheese, popcorn, granola bars, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, pineapple juice, oranges, apples, and more.  I thought about basic necessities she’d need, not luxury products. I thought of her husband. I started looking around our house & the plastic bag of necessities grew: men’s deodorant, women’s deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sunscreen, bug spray, chapstick, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, nail clippers, hand sanitizer, $10 in cash, facial cleansing wipes, baby wipes, a brush, a package of napkins, Kleenex, hair ties, socks for her, socks for him, a large bed sheet, & a two liter of soda water. I put a bag of ice in the bottom to keep it all cold.

I spent a lot of time packing the bag & it was packed with love & hope. We were off in the Bob with my two strep throat kids in tow. I laid the bag across the bottom of the stroller & the kids rested their feet over it. We walked the canal & fed the ducks stale bread. We looked for Jennifer & were not successful. I worried I would not find. her. We walked to Starbuck’s, Arcadia Park, Walgreens, & then, with no luck, began heading home. I peeked across the street & I saw her walking her sweater wearing puppy. I was so happy. I booked it across Indian School, James was asleep & Hope sat quietly playing with her princesses.

I walked up & mentioned I’d been looking all over for her. I pet her pup, Duncan, they call him Duke. & we talked for quite a while. I learned she is 61, she suffers from seizures, she was in a car accident, she has 8 children, has been arrested, has been a victim of identity theft, has been robbed by other homeless people, has had drugs planted in her purse and was arrested & released,  hates cops, and more. I listened to her sob stories over & over & over, again, until the sweat on my brow became too much & my feet ached from the 3 mile walk.

I was so happy to give her the bag, but she didn’t bat an eyelash. She said people drive by all the time & wave & smile & they don’t stop & help. I thought, they all have their own lives & shit to deal with. The world is not here to serve you, but you are here to serve the world, in some way, to contribute the gifts and talents you have within to make the world a better place.

She went on & on. I pet her pup & sat on a brick wall & we talked & she did not ask me a single question. I listened and wondered if she’d been heard lately by anyone other than her husband.

She didn’t thank me for the bag. & it bothered me so much that she lacked gratitude in particular moment. It is a simple thing I did, but I truly thought about each item & put my heart and soul into that bag & she did not say thank you. I didn’t do it for the thank you, I am a caring & giving & loving person. It would have been nice if she would have paused from telling me all the wrongdoings of the world to have said 2 little words: “thank you.” No gratitude. Really bothered me. She gave me her digits so I could check on her. She pointed out her temporary sleep place- the entryway to a place of business that agreed to allow her and her husband  to set up camp outside their front door.

A cop drove by & Duke went crazy. Jennifer mentioned her dog hating cops. She went on and on about how they no longer send her money & she needs an apartment & a co-signer & her hubs keeps passing out from lethargy. I found myself annoyed and over it. Hope was becoming impatient.

I had to leave. I rolled up the street & I gave her the  baby blue used sheet covering  J while he napped & pulled out fresh new warm socks for her & her husband. I hugged her & told her I would be praying for her. I wheeled away & saw her husband sleeping with a half eaten bag of Doritos & very few belongings. Jennifer mentioned her lack of balance. She was advised to no longer ride her bicycle due to her equilibrium being off.

It was time for me to move on and get home & feed myself & my hungry kids. I wheeled home & found myself really sad. I was sad that while she was gifted a bag put together from the heart, she spent the entire time complaining about her life & her slew of unfortunate circumstances & the  wrong doings of her neglectful son that lives in Litchfield Park. He calls to see if she is alive & owns a heating and cooling business along with other family & none of them have offered to help. I wonder where her mom, dad, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandmother, or grandfather are & why on earth they are not helping.

I felt good that I had done God’s work. Hope asked why I was sad & I said, ” I feel sad that my friend, Jennifer, did not thank us for the bag of treats.” And without a beat, Hope said, “Maybe she’s thinking the same thing, mom. Maybe she forgot.”

It happens & we are to give without expectation. I struggle with that, sometimes. Gratitude is how we are blessed with more. The only way to get more is to give more. The only way to get more is to be grateful for what we already have. I am grateful to be able to bless others with items we no longer need or can easily scoop at the store without a second thought. Blessing others brings me great joy. I think I was more excited about the gift than Jennifer was. I just wish I could do more. I wish  to do more for the less fortunate.

What would JESUS do? He would expect nothing. I hope my friend gets off the street. I hope it happens before summer. I hope she does not have a seizure. I hope her husband does not have a seizure. I hope her children help her & look past the mistakes & see into her soul. I hope she stays hydrated & warm & full-bellied. I hope she looks for a job and helps herself get off the streets. I hope she spends more time looking for how to help herself than panhandling.  I hope she finds reliable shelter. I hope the food helped her sleep easier & more soundly, even for just one night. I hope the light blue sheet made sleeping on the concrete more bearable.

I hope. I wish. I pray.


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