No high resolution image exists...
When we moved to Sacramento nine years ago, I was stunned by the beauty of the American river and the abundance of trees in this state capital. I was also surprised by the high number of homeless downtown. Sacramento was not the metropolitan area, I was expecting for a state capital.
In my opinion, Sacramento was a Californian urban area surrounded by suburbs. In a few years, the downtown-Midtown areas became more urban; people moved into lofts and renovated Victorians.
In 2009, Sacramento was labeled a tent city. The little secret about homelessness in this state capital worsened with the mortgage crisis. It was sad. A struggling middle class was losing houses far from downtown. Then they were reduced to find refuge in tents. Homeless and downtown residents live in parallel universes. Through the years and seasons, we share common areas but live parallel lives.
In spring, I took this picture in the midst of garbage. In a back alley, the Bible and the Sunday shoes were put aside. The neatness contrasted with the chaos. Someone tossed them away. And someone else found them and saved them because only he or she could see their real value for someone else.
I felt a mix of graciousness, awareness, kindness, gentleness, tenderness and selflessness. That is why I stopped and took this picture. I wanted to pick up the holy book, but it was not mine to take. It was there for reason. My reason was selfish. I was curious to find a note or anything. A lady did look at me like I’d lost my mind. Yes, sometimes when I find something outside that I can use and like, I take it. I guess she never did. So graciousness is another angle of homelessness. I hope that someone took the Bible and the Sunday shoes.
In summer, we took a bike ride to the river. My plan was to chill in the shade and read in peace. My son was planning to enjoy the freezing-cold water. However, we got there in the middle of a couple's courting rehearsal. I wanted to go farther away, but my son was already in the water. I sat down and watched their little opera. The lady apologized for the scene, and the man moaned at her. I told them that it was cool and they were cute together. And they started arguing about the labeling of their relationship. I knew my peaceful reading had just drowned.
A few minutes later, the lady introduced herself as Kim and her “friend” was Joe. Kim had a sweet, sandy and rocky voice. She had that protective armor that we build when we do not trust anymore. Joe was preaching every one of his sentences with all his strength. Joe, in his 50s, is from Michigan, and Kim, in her 40s, is from California. They are homeless and watch out for each other.
We talked about everything and nothing. Some parts were pure nonsense, but they also shared pure and real wisdom. Joe had a necklace with a wooden cross. His father left him when he was five years old. I could feel his childhood pain in his voice.
Joe told me, “Baby Girl, I will be real with you. Life is hard. You must never worship men. The secret is to love everybody, and the rest will come. I love every motherfucka out here, but the most difficult shit is to love myself. Baby girl, I am rich! God is my father!!” He also made me promise to read Jeremiah chapter 29 verse 11 “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Kim mothered my son like a loving auntie. She told him to be proud and confident, no matter what others say. Watching her mothering my baby made me realize that I was lucky to share this moment with her.
Next to my son, Kim dropped her armor, and she was soft and fragile. Even my son became aware of her calm and delicate aura. Kim shared that she has four kids who are staying with her mother. She has a drinking problem caused by really violent domestic violence. She has a large scar on her throat. She said “it is hard to be trusted again, but it is harder to trust. It is hard to find a good man that sees you and does not hurt you inside. I need to find myself first”
Kim and Joe were missing their children. They were longing to belong. And they starved to be needed. Beyond their opera characters, I saw glimpses of very deep and powerful persons inside. They were very appreciative of my listening. They were proud to share their wisdom and parenting skills. They were happy that I could see beyond the homelessness. They gave me priceless compliments and blessings that warmed my soul. We whispered to each other words of wisdom and hope.
Kim was dreaming to get back to her children. Joe was dreaming to travel around and be in his children’s lives before he becomes a grandfather. Kim also wished to have a place called home with her children. And Joe also wished to say, “I am going home for dinner.” At the end, we exchanged grateful salutations and blessings.
This winter, I hope that Kim and Joe did find a refugee. I am forever grateful for these two wisdom whisperers.