As I drove into the gas station, I saw her squatting on the curb with her head down and covered by a gray hood. My first thought was that she was crying, and a tiny voice said maybe she was homeless and despairing on New Year’s Eve. While I was filling up my tank, I glanced back and saw that this small-framed girl was fingering her cellphone, and I assumed she must have been a high-schooler. Satisfied, I turned back to the gas tank.
As I was topping up the tank, I heard a soft lonely voice behind me. “Can you spare a dollar for a hamburger?” It was the gray-hooded girl, very thin and shivering like a waif. A wisp of black hair crept onto her plain face, right next to a black eye. I immediately felt sorry for the girl, and found myself wondering if the Lord had sent her over to talk with me.
Now my position in regard to homeless people has been that they can go to the Salvation Army or other places whose mission is to provide such people food and shelter. Although I donate to established overseas missions, I generally do not give money to individual homeless in the USA because I cannot know how they will spend it. Despite this attitude, I felt I should be more open with this waif. Before answering her question, I started to grill the girl…….I am a scientist after all, and wanted to find out the facts.
“How old are you?”
“Are you homeless?”
“Yes, but right now I am staying in a hotel with friends”.
“Are you a runaway?”
“Yes, I left North Carolina with my boyfriend, but we have broken up.”
“Did he give you the black eye?”
“Yes, before we broke up.”
“Do you have a car?”
“No, I walk mostly, or take a bus if I have money”.
“Have you told your parents where you are?”
“No…..my mother is on drugs and my father left her”.
“Are you on drugs?” I asked.
“No…….yes, but only meth”.
“You don’t take other hard drugs?”
“How do I know you are telling me the truth?”
She hesitated a moment, before pointing at her shoes and offering sadly:
“Look at my shoes…..see how worn they are”.
In fact, her shoes looked more like bedroom slippers, and the toes were indeed worn out.
“Can we call your parents?” I prompted.
“My cellphone has died”.
“I will call them, if you give me the number”.
She gave me the number, and I called on my cellphone. The voice at the other end said “The number you have called is out of service”. I wasn’t too surprised……
I was silent, wondering what I should do, when the waif looked up at me through her long thin face.
“I need to go. That’s my friend over there”. And she trudged off.
I turned to see that she was met by a round-faced overweight girl of about the same age. As they began talking, the waif pointed at me. I walked over and began to grill the friend, who was better dressed, including makeup, and could even smile. She stated she was from Denver, but that she knew the waif via the ex-boyfriend. The only way the two girls could get around Albuquerque was by bus or by walking, she confirmed.
“Where are you staying? I enquired.
“In a small hotel not far from here”.
“Is the girl staying there also?”
“Yes, she is”.
“Are you paying for the hotel?”
“Yes, with some other girls”.
“Are you on drugs?”
“What will happen to the girl?” I queried.
“She can come with me to Denver when I go home next week, if she wants to”.
A thought struck me like a fist in the belly. How can I act like an angel to this girl? I have written a book about a coangel, and how she provided help and hope to us humans. I pulled out a $50 note, and gave it to the friend.
“Would you use this to help the girl”.
“Yes I will, and thank you”.
The shivering waif tried to smile, and added a bleak “Thank you. God bless you”.
“Stay right there for a moment”, I directed. When I returned with a light winter jacket which I always kept in the car, the waif put it on and zipped it up. Meanwhile I felt like the Lord was saying to give the friend another $50, and I did. He reminded me it was a lot less than what I had spent on myself while vacationing in Phoenix recently.
Les Miserables is playing this week in theaters across America, and it begins with the story of a poor woman who dies and leaves Jean Valjean her child, also a waif, to look after. I think to myself that maybe I have helped the gas-station waif just a little bit……. unless I have been hoodwinked.
However when I sit down in the seat of my car, a flood of tears comes with the thoughts “Does this sad little homeless girl have any chance in life? What more could I have done? Should I have invited the waif to my home to stay in a warm quilted bed, and eat the luxuries that I feed myself every day?”
Post-script: Jean Valjean had been a convict for many years. After he was released, it was virtually impossible to find work because of his criminal past. Taking a risk, a priest invited him one evening to stay in his home. By morning Valjean had gone, and stolen some expensive silver candlesticks.
However, the gendarmes caught Valjean and returned him to the priest’s home, anticipating the priest would file charges. To their surprise, the priest revealed he had given the silver candlesticks to Valjean, and the gendarmes had to let him go. That single Christ-like act changed the life of Jean Valjean into a saint.
Dear reader: I ask for your advice. What would you have done in regards to the homeless girl at the gas station?
The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers……
“Whoever stops his ears at the cry of the poor will cry out himself and not be heard” (Proverbs chapter 21).
“The benevolent person scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his deeds of justice and goodness and kindness and benevolence will go on and endure forever” (2 Corinthians chapter 9).
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