Thursday, September 1, 2011

stories at bottoms of stairs

Every day bears new stories, new faces, and difficult decisions. There are children whose school uniforms are two sizes too small; grandmothers raising grandbabies; cabinets stripped of food; and houses smothering their occupants after a cut-off notice went… unnoticed.

Though every day bears new stories, somehow they start sounding the same. Our hands get weary, our ears turn deaf, and our hearts turn to something like stone. Which stories are true? How do we help without hurting? What is the right response – and when is ‘no response’ the right response?

I have lived, alongside many others, with these tensions for many years now. I’ve dropped my head to my desk, cried as I write down phone messages, and stormed down those stairs to a persistent visitor who rarely tells me the truth.

And I cannot say I’ve got good answers. Oh, I’ve got some answers… to a very few number of questions. And most of those answers came after the telling of the story, after the writing of the check, after the wiping of the tears. Some would even say those answers came too late.


She’s around my age – mid-20s – with three children. She’s relentless, chases after things, tries until she can say she’s tried with everything she’s got. And this time, all she needed was $50 to keep her air conditioner running in the 110 heat index of Memphis. I like this girl; she’s kind and seems honest. She might even remind of myself – bright eyes, high hopes, more optimistic than is sometimes good for us.

Maybe that’s why, with one hour to go until cut-off time, we hugged, made small talk, and I handed her a check, for a measly $50.

I wanted to sit down and talk; I needed to know more about her story. There are other things we need to address. What about next month? What about school? Is your brother ever going to contribute to the household income? But those questions have to wait. Transportation and children and “temp” agencies hold a firm grip on her schedule. And so I will wait, too.


Life can start feeling a little worthless, a little like all these things don’t matter - $50 and hugs and prayers and follow-up phone calls ending in, “I still don’t have a job.” The dead ends and disconnected phone numbers can wrench the compassion right from your stone heart.

But I cannot quit; I cannot forget my own dead ends, my own fruitless pursuits, dark decisions, and faith-killing sin. I cannot forget, and so I’ll keep walking down those stairs.

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