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(The following is a true story, recently sent to me, which I thought would help others. The author graciously agreed to have this published, anonymously. I thought today a good day to do so, given the Gospel in the Novus Ordo from Matthew 25, and as food – of the spiritual sort – for thought and reflection, as we begin our Lenten pilgrimage. As Pope Benedict put it in his inaugural 2005 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, what “every person—needs” – what so many lack, is “namely, loving personal concern”. Editor).

Like St. Francis, I encountered her like a leper in a field. On a wet, snow-filled afternoon, Tammy was in the middle of the street, cart overturned, and her belongings scattered across the pavement. As I walked closer, I heard her weeping groans. “Would you like some help?” I asked. A voice, that of a child, accepted through suffering sounds. I began lifting a frigid, water-logged blanket, trying to return it to its original bag, from which the cloth handles were tearing. The smell of stale tobacco and other drugs permeated my nostrils.

Her cart had three wheels, evidencing the reason for why it tipped over, scattering her only belongings across the drenched sidewalk. Her only belongings, as I sorted through them, were mostly garbage—remnants of a glass pipe, parts of clothing, unmatched shoes, broken plastic containers, plastic bags.

Other than the tent, the umbrella, the tarp, her clothing, a notebook, a box of sample shampoos, with differing cheap artificial scents, and three plastic water bottles, I would have tossed everything else in the trash. Two piles could have turned into one and she could have been a bit more mobile.

The entire scene stunned my mind. I had no idea how to solve Tammy’s problem of an overturned three wheeled cart and all her belongings. How would I help her? As I thought this, a man stopped by with a pizza box from “Uncle Faith’s Pizza” and gave it to us. Another man stopped, asking if we wanted to buy cheap smokes, to which I replied with my eyes, “Do you really think cheap smokes are going to solve this overturned cart?” Somewhat impatiently, I said “No!”

Naively, I thought to go find her another cart, and walked to the grocery store before reassuring her I would come back. Walking, the reality of me stealing a shopping cart became an impossibility to me. But for Tammy, I would do it. I hoped and prayed I had a dollar for the cart deposit. To No Frills, I walked. To the carts, I approached, taking off my backpack and thankfully rejoicing in the dollar I found. As I put the dollar into the cart, the back of the cart had a warning sign that the cart would alarm if taken off the premises of the parking lot. Defeated, I put the dollar back, returning the cart. The snowy rain continued to come down, and I was becoming slowly soaked.

Walking back to Tammy, I went to Tim Hortons and bought her a French vanilla and a $10 gift card. I stopped at Dollarama and bought her new scarf and dry gloves. With these purchases in tow, and not much hope, I walked back to a shivering Tammy, sitting on top of her belongings.

I knelt in front of her. “I’m sorry but there is no way I can get you a new cart. It’s illegal.” So, I wrapped the light pink scarf around her. Tried to put the gloves on her frozen, yellow-stained fingers. No blood was coursing through her hands. They were ice cold; they felt like my grandmothers when I was a child and I reached up to touch her hands at her funeral viewing—cold, unmovable. So, picking up her hands, I held them in mine and began to pray.

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.


And again.

I found her eyes, with mascara stained underneath, and wondered out loud, “Oh, Tammy, how did you ever get to a place like this?” No coherent reply was offered, just sounds resembling suffering, pain, affliction.

Another man came by, offering her mittens that were warmer than my purchase. He joined me in empathizing with Tammy and her overturned cart. I could see him thinking how to solve her overturned cart and feeling her pain with me.

As I continued to rub her hands, they began to warm. What was I to do now? I did not know how else I could reasonably help her. So, I left her with items that I deemed valuable to her situation, but from her childlike lips, she uttered the cry of her heart “I just want to go home.”

My heart that so easily attached to her and her sorry situation began to tear away. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how else to help you.” And I walked away.

I encountered the man who gave her the mittens and he said he would give Tammy his dolly, then she could be mobile with her belongings. This man, living out of his van, explained to me that he would have brought her scattered belongings into his van but there was no room. He gathered the dolly out of the van, as I watched, occasionally lending a hand. Before leaving, I gave him the only gift card I had left on me. “Lady don’t give that to me. I’ll only give it to her.” Although, he seemed to be in a better situation than Tammy, I said “I gave Tammy what I gave her. This is for your kindness.”

And so, I walked away. I walked to the library, my original destination, and as I arrived, I felt like screaming to all the quiet readers, “Do you know how some people are living?” Do you know that Tammy is suffering?” The world seemed so dim, so dark, so cold. I walked into the bathroom, into a stall and wept. I wept because there was nothing else I would, or could, do. I wept for Tammy, whose home was the frigid unwelcoming winter of the lower mainland, whose belongings were wet and piled in two large heaps on a drenched, snowy sidewalk, whose voice will haunt me with the suffering reality of so many. I wept because I knew no earthly hope in those moments with Tammy.

I left the stall and walked to the sink and mirror, looking at my reflection and felt the remnant of Tammy on my hands. Out of disgust, out of fear, I washed her away. How could I stare back at my reflection, knowing that Tammy would sleep in the cold tonight, and I would go home to a warm bed? How can I proclaim the words of love but shrink back in fear of Tammy and her situation.

On the bus ride home, I thought of two things. How would Tammy ever receive Our Lord in the Eucharist? In this moment, Lewis’s words about your neighbour, next to the Blessed Sacrament, being the holiest object to your senses became alive to me. I realized that, however broken, however imperfect, however insufficient… that moment with Tammy was sacred. We, somehow, became Christ to one another. Yet, she was more of Him to me than I to her.

The other thing was Christ’s sermon on the mount, “Blessed are those poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Heaven is available to all, through a humble, meek and simple “Yes.” Yet, how does this look? It is not in the pretty, aesthetic moments of our curated and socially approved lives. It’s not even in what we perceive as ourselves growing in virtue, for so often we deceive ourselves.

And so, I ask myself, I ask you the question: where do we see the face of Christ? If we begin to fail to see His face in our fellow human, regardless of their political or religious beliefs, social standing, etc. we have forgotten the reality of Our humble, poor Saviour, who nearing the end of his earthly life, almost all those who once loved him had abandoned Him, had washed Him away. If we cannot see His Face in Tammy’s, we have failed Our Lord. If I cannot treasure the remnant of Tammy’s hands, I have failed Our Lord. I saw the tenderness of a poor heart, a poor soul, a poor child, yearning to be loved, yearning to have a home, yearning for intimacy. Yet in this same breath, I considered her dirty and desired to wash her away once I left her.

All other hopes fail me, but this: One day, a new day—I dream of a day, where Tammy encounters Our Mother, who loved perfectly, who never walked away, who kissed and treasured her Child’s wounds. I trust when Tammy enters heaven, she will feel Our Mother’s arms lovingly wrap around her. She will look up into those sweet, once sorrowful, glimmering eyes and she will know her sorrow was fully seen, fully felt. I hope Tammy, once embraced in those loving arms, hears the words of Our Blessed Mother and Her Beloved and Suffering Son, “Child, welcome home.”

For all other hopes fail me.