This is my friend Jen. We have never actually met, but we lead similar lives. She is also a mom-to-many, a writer, and a fitness enthusiast. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my run-in with a person who the world views as unworthy. Jen had a similar experience. Here is her story:
My new favorite Starbucks is about two blocks from my kids’ school—Fifth Avenue, downtown. I went there this morning. The perfect parking spot opened, just as I arrived. There were two minutes left on the meter and no change in my pocket. Lucky for me, this location takes credit cards. I quickly paid to avoid a parking ticket and jumped into the hustle and bustle of the city life. This Starbuck’s is pretty small. The barista’s aren’t the fastest in town. But it pulses with the heartbeat of my downtown neighborhood, and I find it quaint.
It’s always fascinating to watch people there. I have met up with a mom or two from school a time or two. But the amazing thing for me to observe is the big business deal happening right alongside a young man receiving some form of acupuncture from a beautiful Latino woman. All of it right there–everyone with his or her cup of “Joe.” Of course every city is full of young hipsters. I find beauty in them sipping cold brew right next to retired men, who unknowingly wear the same suspenders. There are the “haves” from the downtown penthouses and upscale lofts. There are the “have nots,” straight from their bedroll on the sidewalk around the corner. It’s racially diverse, socioeconomically broad, multi-generational and everyone seems to belong there.
This morning’s visit left me standing in line for the bathroom. As I waited, my back up against the wall, I watched a woman, likely in her fifties, pouring extravagant amounts of cream and sugar into her coffee. She paused, then began stirring rapidly. She was alone, yet talking as though in a conversation with someone. She was passionate about her topic and I couldn’t help but listen in. She was ranting on and on about Jane Seymour–about her having twin boys, sired by the President in 2009 and the cover-up conspiracy that was duping America. She was intense, perhaps even desperate. Her words rambled on. They slurred together, not always making much sense. I leaned in. I stepped a little closer. I wanted to be a listening ear for the story she seemed frantic to tell. She was determined. There would be no convincing her of any other truth here.
She had no idea I watched her. She didn’t see me listening. She couldn’t hear or care about me … thinking. She just stood, stirring her coffee, talking to herself. I realized she was one of the ‘broken’ ones. Somewhere along the road of life, her mind began playing tricks. I wondered about her family, her siblings, her … mom. Not long ago, she was just a child—just a little girl. Now, she was here, mumbling about the CIA and the President and Jan Seymour, while she stood, alone and mentally broken on Fifth Avenue, stirring her morning coffee.
How did she get here? What path landed her so fragmented at Starbucks? Was it the choices she made? Where was she from? Was she born into an average, middle class family and drawn into darkness by the wrong crowd of friends in her teenage years? Or maybe she was a product of her environment—born into a cycle of mental, emotional and economically hardship, leaving her fighting upstream with no other resource to get her out.
Perhaps someone harmed her. Was the trauma of another human’s poor choices so damaging to her that she simply snapped? All these questions and wonderings ran through my mind as I stood watching. But does it really matter? Does it make her less human? Is her life any less valuable?
Where I live, she is not extraordinary. She is on many street corners in my neighborhood. She is one of them. I pass them daily on my morning run. We see them on our drive to school and they reside on the streets just blocks from our home. They are at my grocery store, or living on my sidewalks. And today, I just so happened to see to her at my favorite Starbucks. She has become a part of my “normal” daily life. And to me she matters.
I understand it’s complicated—all the brokenness around me. I’m not naïve. But what’s simple in my mind is that THEY are loved by God. On some level, we’re all broken.
Life just hasn’t been quite as harsh to me. But some days I feel lost and fragmented at the coffee counter too. I get a little crazy on Fifth Avenue from time to time. And sometimes I have a story to tell, but I struggle in solitude—big crowd or not. So when I see her, — and when I see all of them —I think any one of them could be … me.
I bumped into a confused, broken lady over coffee. And I’m glad for the time granted me by a slow barista and a bathroom line. Time to lean in, step a little closer and see God’s love.
Thank you, Jen, for taking the time to lean in. Every day we are presented the opportunity to do the same. May we take those opportunities to see others as God sees them. If you want to read more from Jen, you can find her here.