Umbrellas and hugging broken strangers

by You Have My Word

She reeked of brokenness, cigarettes and dank, wet clothes. Her hair was haphazardly tied back, strands now plastered to her freckled face from running to find shelter in the pelting rain. Her visage braced itself like this: hollow, sunken eyes like sinking ships and pursed lips like paper-cut fingertips, her smile no more beautiful than the jarred teeth of rusted zips.

When I handed her the umbrella and whatever I had in my wallet at that moment, she managed to whimper a shaky “thank you.” As I turned to leave – not wanting to get too close – her shivering frame pulled tighter into herself as she began to weep. I stopped in my tracks and turned back to her, advanced in two steps and hugged her.

My heart severed as my arms engulfed this fighter, this day-to-day survivor. There we stood in the wind-and-rain-free alley sanctuary between a video store and a fast-food outlet. There we stood and God said, “She is mine.” And I tried to hug her as God would hug one of His own.

I had looked for her. When I drove past the traffic light where she had stood earlier, she wasn’t there. This was her usual spot, so I knew she’d be close. It was only once I made an about turn at the next light and came back did I see her huddling close to another traffic-light home-maker as he did what he could to ward off some of the angry rain under his already folding in, crumpled umbrella.

The rain is relentless today. Shoes steeped and soaked in water that can’t be contained by gutters, puddles wide and deep enough for children to swim in, clouds as dark as tar blanketing an otherwise beautiful summer city.

From the outside, it seems her struggle is relentless too. I don’t know what nightmare she wakes up to each morning and I don’t know what thoughts plague her mind into comatose sleep. I don’t know where she sleeps. She hovers day in and day out at the traffic light with a 30 x 20 cm piece of cardboard with the words ” 3 year old boy any help” written on. She never moves, she never makes eye contact. I’m not even sure she knows she’s alive sometimes.

She is shrouded with the same hoodie each day, and black jeans wrap what seems to be the only support she has: legs – pillars of strength that tell more of her character than her physique. She knows love. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t be standing there for her boy. She knows love, but knows not where to find it. And it breaks me.

I drive past day after day with enough to wear and eat. I drive past day after day knowing that I have work and friends and a place to sleep. I drive past day after day with hope. I don’t know if she has any of the above. My small gift was only a token to show her something of that hope – a glimpse of the love of Christ. Whether she saw Christ’s love or just an umbrella, I’m not sure.

But is there even a difference today?