Lessons From Street People

Maggie (not her real name) has imprinted herself in my mind. To you and me, Maggie’s story is unusual. For starters, she was found in a dumpster–a throw-away newborn.

I first encountered her as I drove by her in a “seedy” section of town. Maggie changed my perspective on the plight of street people.

While we talked, Maggie periodically poured conditioner into her hand and “tamed” her nappy near-waist-length hair, using her fingers as a comb. The beauty of olive skin and deep dark eyes haunted me. After we talked, I took her to a Women’s Shelter where she stayed. Temporarily.

When next I saw her, she wore cargo pants and a baggy sweater. Determination in her brisk walk implied a destination. Not so.

Again I picked her up. We talked and walked for a bit. Then I called my husband. “We do have an empty bedroom. It would keep her safe.” Thus Maggie stepped into our bedroom. Instantly her hand covered her mouth and she fell to her knees. “I prayed for a closet and I got a room.”

A few days later Maggie rode to town with me to get her things. She reappeared with a man. “We will be right back.” Nope.

A few years have passed and this month I saw Maggie, in a near zombie state yet putting one foot in front of the other. Oh, Maggie. What should I….what could I do for you?

From my rear-view mirror I observed Maggie stopping a trucker as his vehicle edged forward at the company gate, preparing deliver his cargo. Begging, searching dumpsters for food, and selling her body keep her alive.

The searing questions I struggle with probably have no answer. Why would a woman put her just-born child in a dumpster? Is schizophrenia caused by trauma to an infant? Is she suffering from a detachment disorder? How does a person effectively help her?

Why? Mental illness is hell on earth, Lord. I sometimes yell at Him, Why? Mental illness is hell on earth.

Each time I drive to an appointment and see Maggie, I want to stop, jump out, run to her, and wrap my arms around her. I want to imagine that an embrace can erase her misery, bring hope and purpose. What a dream!

Maggie, I love you.

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