Has it only been a year? Because it seems like a lifetime. A year ago, almost to the day, I ran away. After our adoption fell through and I kissed my baby girls goodbye, sending them off into the world with prayers for a better life, I packed my bags, buckled the kids into the minivan, and drove away, trying desperately to outrun my pain. I went first to Oklahoma City and then on to Abilene, Texas hoping my sisters could distract me from my heartache. Or, at the very least, sit and mourn with me. And it worked, sort of. I came home from that little road trip more in love with my husband and my children, more determined to be a better person, and for the first time – a writer. I came home determined to become a published writer. Out of the ashes of my former life rose this new career and a whole new identity.
Today I find myself planning my escape all over again.
I found out last night that one of my good friends died in her sleep Sunday night, leaving behind her 4 month old daughter. This is bad enough, but let me tell you how I met her and why my heart may never let this go. T was homeless when I met her through our church’s food pantry program. She had almost no personal belongings and not a dime to her name, unable to come up with enough money to take a bus to the hospital where her baby girl was fighting for her life after a traumatic, premature birth. Can you imagine not being able to see your newborn baby? T worried that she wouldn’t be able to care for her daughter properly, trying desperately to find a place to live and a way to support the two of them. She brought her baby girl home to a warm hotel room just before Christmas and we were so happy to watch that baby grow bigger and stronger every day. T struggled to get the paperwork she needed for housing and a proper job while we tackled such items as clothing and food and spare change for doing laundry.
I never realized what an uphill battle it is to get off the streets. So often I’ve heard people say, “Why don’t they just get a job?!” Can you imagine trying to get a job when you don’t have a birth certificate, a high school diploma, a driver’s license, or even clean clothes to wear? The list of hurdles seemed daunting even to me and then there was that sweet baby who now needed a lot of extra care, especially in the middle of winter with the flu spreading around us like wildfire. It’s hard to make it to appointments when you are told not to take your baby out in public for a few months. And when you do take the baby out, you will be walking in the cold wind and rain or, if you’re lucky, riding a public bus with a premature infant in a car seat that you have to carry, so if you were on your way to get groceries well…you’re screwed!
While I was watching all of this and wrestling with how best to help her, something else was happening all around me. I began to realize that T wasn’t the only one. As a matter of fact, I knew several young women who were living with very similar situations and I just never realized it even though we were friends. I began to wonder how anyone ever really gets ahead once they find themselves that low. And I don’t mean just financially low. The stress and fear and loneliness that weigh on a person’s soul in this situation is caustic. No wonder people in desperate circumstances so often make disastrous choices!
It began to weigh on my soul, too. How can I sit in my beautiful home filled with a mountain of belongings I don’t need and more food than we could possible eat in a month while my friends struggled just a few miles away to survive another day? It ate at me. It still does.
I hope it always will.
So, today…I was planning my escape. I want to run away. Maybe I’ll take a drive down to my favorite ridiculous getaway destination – Ikea. It’s far enough to make it a weekend trip. I’ll go and spend money on things I don’t really need and eat fabulous food that traveled across the world to fill my tummy and I’ll play music really loud in the car and sing till my throat hurts.
Then, the phone rings. It’s about T’s funeral. They’ve set the date for Saturday. And there it is, rushing back at me: How can I escape this pain when T deserves so much more from me? Will it really make me feel better? Or will I wake up Monday morning with a few new bookshelves to line my office and a burning hole in my stomach that says I wasted much more than money? I wasted time. I wasted talent. I wasted myself in search of pleasure when I could have been helping a friend.
Instead of running away and coming home more empty than I already am, I think I’ll be sitting in church on Saturday morning as T’s family says goodbye. I’ll cry my eyes out for T and her baby girl who will never know the incredible brave and beautiful mother she had. I’ll try to sing along as the choir sings about heaven and the beautiful home T has now in the city above. I will whisper heartfelt prayers for her soul and her family as they try to move on without her. And then, I’ll say goodbye to her body and go home.
I won’t run away anymore, because there is no escape. Not for any of us. We have just one life. One life to spend chasing our own pleasures and our own hopes and dreams. Or… One life to give away. One life to spend making others feel loved who’ve spent their lives feeling abandoned and despised by the world around them. I will no longer run from this pain. I will embrace it. I will remember this pain of letting go and use it to move forward, finding new ways to help the hurting in my community. I will never again allow myself to look past those who are so clearly needing our attention. My eyes have been opened and so has my heart. Thanks T. I love you, girl. And I want you to know, I won’t run anymore.