A Girl on the Streets
Her name was Carly. She was wrapped in a new blanket and had her kitten beside her in a tiny carrier. It was a day with a wicked cold wind. I could see she was new to the streets.
Despite my schedule and the fact that I was in a skirt I joined Carly by sitting on the sidewalk beside her. I wanted to know her story..
I learned that Carly was only 17 and wanted to finish school. Her uncomprehending parents starting charging the children rent, rent they did not have the funds to pay. Systematically the children, including Carly, were all kicked out without resources. The bedrooms could rent for up to $1000.00 a month each in the rental market at the time.
This young women was cold, hungry, afraid and absolutely in shock. I asked her what her plan was. She said she would sleep at the homeless shelter at night, eat there and then beg on the streets until she could get on her feet. You need money to get a job.
Sitting with the Broken
We talked a long while. It was cold and filthy dirty on that sidewalk. By joining Carly I climbed down my ladder, from the top where I often stood with the privileged – to sit with the broken.
I experienced the complexity of simply sitting in that space with her. The distaste and contempt from people on that busy street was palatable. They openly were repulsed and a wide berth was created between “us and them”. It rocked me to my soul and I felt my self-esteem pool on the cement as it flowed out of me. It was a demoralizing experience.
Why Some People Stay
And yet some men and women chose this life.
I once asked a man of no fixed address that I visit often what made him chose a homeless life in the end, even when he did have other opportunity. At first he explained that you are only cold and hungry for a short time before it messes with your mind. But the permanence was engraved, he said when: “Someone called me by name.”
Someone called me by name. How easy it would have been for others in the lives of those facing challenge to call them by name and draw them in. I could have walked past this girl and left her nameless and unknown. But I did not and when I left Carly, she had cash in her hand, tears in her eyes and hope. Her name and her story forever engraved in my heart.
I have never again found her on these streets.
Leadership is the art of walking beside be that for a few steps or a long journey. And sometimes it is leaving the heights where we stand to sit with the vulnerable and the broken so we too may experience the fragility of humanity and its hidden undercurrent of strength and hope.