MJ Reflections

Monday, May 23, 2011

That Woman

Last night, as I left my office after dark, something entirely unexpected happened... a moment in time when I saw a true-life image that touched me deeply. It was one of those moments that can only happen when a synchronicity of circumstances and events makes you stop in your tracks from the power of it. A Divine message which reminds you of the interconnectedness of all of humanity and all of life. A moment of empathy and true compassion when you can feel the heart and soul of another and which sparks questions about the Divine order of all things.

It was a cool night with a dampness that lingered in the air from showers that had occurred randomly throughout the day - typical for a spring day in southern Oregon. As I approached my car which was parked across the street, I heard a noise behind me like the sound of someone stepping on a twig, and I quickly turned around to see what or who had made that noise. In the shadows under the branches of a large tree I saw a woman making her way down the sidewalk with her personal belongings in tow. I knew at once that she was homeless. She was bent over, limping under the weight of her load and she was moving very slowly. It was quiet all around us except for an occasional snap of a twig under her feet, and the scene was mystical... almost ethereal. The image of this woman as she slowly made her way down the street late at night, and the stark reality that she had nowhere to go, caught me off guard. I paused on that awareness for a moment before getting into my car and heading home.

I couldn't get this woman off my mind as I settled into my cozy little apartment, fixed myself some dinner and sat down at my computer for my nightly social networking and writing for my blog. It's not that I haven't witnessed plenty of homelessness in my community. It's all around me in plain sight nearly every day. The building where I work hosts a food bank and the property often attracts homeless people looking for a place to sleep, especially during bad weather. There was just something about this woman and what she represented that touched me at my core. It was an awakening of sorts - I saw in her something I had not noticed before which, in turn, made me see something in ME that needed to be awakened!

The next morning, after a good night's sleep, I awoke with the still-fresh memory of that woman on my mind, as well as a sense that something in me had changed. As the day wore on, words to a poem were floating in and out of my thoughts, repeating themselves often as this experience settled into my consciousness and would not let me be! So, that evening, using the words which had been given to me, I wrote the following poem as an expression of my awakening. I pray that I will always remember this feeling - this understanding of another's reality that used to be so foreign to me. May the compassion I feel today remain as I navigate through this life, and if I falter and forget, may I be reminded once again that we are all on this journey together as God's beloved children.

That woman…
Walking down the street alone after dark
Tattered clothes
Layered for warmth and convenience to carry
Her other belongings piled on her back
Or hanging from her arms dragging behind
She can barely walk under the weight of her load

There’s nobody else around for blocks, except me
On my way home to my comfortable space
I feel guilty somehow
Why me?
Why am I “worthy” of this luxury and not her?
How do You choose, God?
And if not You, then who decides?
What is our fate, our life’s journey, our destination?
Is it just chance, luck of the draw, or simply circumstance?

Oh, Great One
Conductor of souls
Composer of this symphony of life
You Who have choreographed this dance of Creation
What makes one life more blessed than the next?
Why am I so fortunate when others must suffer so much more?
I have a home
I eat every day
I sleep on a warm soft bed in a cozy little apartment
Modest by most standards but blessed nonetheless
I have a job
I pay my bills
And I don’t have to beg for my next meal

That woman…
Walking down the street alone after dark
She begs every day for a morsel of food…
to stay alive!
For what?
To sleep in some alley on a cold rainy night
And wake up the next morning to beg again…
just to survive!
What kind of life is that, and what keeps her going?
What unimaginable strength she must have inside
To carry on each day and into the night
Does despair ever win?
Does hope ever die?
Is hope even within her scope of thinking?

I feel so helpless
What can I do?
I spent most of my life detached somehow
I didn’t even notice
That woman…
Walking down the street alone after dark
She was there
But I was not
I turned away and pretended she didn’t exist
Now that I see, what is my part?
How do I make a difference
To that woman…
Walking down the street alone after dark?

I lift my head to look at her
I nod, I smile, I say hello
I acknowledge her existence
At least it’s a start

That is my part
To pay attention
Don’t turn away and pretend she doesn’t exist
Understanding her pain, her struggle to survive
May give me the courage to take the next step
More than a look, a nod, or a smile
Will stir her heart and lighten her sorrow

Maybe next time I’ll be able to say
What is your name?
May I help you somehow to carry your load?
Come in out of the rain and allow me to take your coat
Dear woman…
Walking down the street alone after dark

Seeing God in her, I gain respect
This child of God has met many challenges
that I couldn’t even imagine
Who am I to judge and look the other way?
Compassion moves me to share my light
And do what I can to make her life just a little bit brighter
To carry her through the night
and give her strength to face the next day

To me
With my comfortable life, it doesn’t seem like much
But to her
It may be the very thing
that makes her feel her life is worth living
Not only that…
When I do my part
It makes Love real
For that woman…
Walking down the street alone after dark

Copyright © 2011 by Charlene Burgess

Compassion lives in the night and day
Compassion is Love's best way
Compassion brings together great and small
Compassion is the light which unites us all.

Compassion is the highest expression of human love, and a keynote of our spiritual evolution. As Compassion flows from our hearts, Balance is gained, and Harmony among opposites is achieved. Compassion, Balance and Harmony create Freedom and Liberation, and from this place and space, Compassion unites us all.
~ Author Unknown

Prayer of Compassion from Mother Teresa
Lord, open our eyes
that we may see You in our brothers and sisters.
Lord, open our ears
that we may hear the cries of the hungry,
the cold, the frightened, the oppressed.
Lord, open our hearts
that we may Love each other as You Love us.
Renew in us Your spirit.
Lord, free us and make us one.

Artist Heidi Hansen, formerly homeless, painted this artistic representation of hope after homelessness. The original painting bears her dedication “When we reach our darkest moments, we can choose to act out our despair, or do something extraordinary.” This piece was one of 28 of her paintings which she donated to be sold at an art auction to benefit a homeless shelter and to raise awareness of homelessness in Vancouver, Washington. Hansen is a survivor of domestic violence and mental illness who received services from Open House Ministries and Share, Inc.


  1. Dear Char,

    Thank you for your honesty and self-reflection in the path we all walk every day. Everything that we do has an impact on those around us.
    It is my belief that the soul chooses the lessons that need to be learned in this life, so there is a reason for everything even if it feels "wrong" and "unfair". So it may be her soul's lesson to experience the struggle for life and her daily bread, and maybe it's your and my soul's lesson to learn how to deal with those less fortunate around us. Sometimes giving from the heart, a listening ear, an acknowledging smile can do another a world of good, while yet another person, more fortunate than us, gives her a meal and a pillow.

    Having compassion in your heart, and that was also clear in your post, is what matters.

    Also, love the beautiful quotes!