Charity

12/5/09

n. pl. char-i-ties

1.  Provision of help or relief to the poor; almsgiving.
2.  Something given to help the needy; alms.
3.  An institution, organization, or fund established to help the needy.
4.  Benevolence or generosity toward others or toward humanity.
5.  Indulgence or forebearance in judging others.  See Mercy.
6.  The theological virtue defined as love directed first toward God but also toward oneself and one’s neighbors as objects of God’s love.
Fred and I invited a homeless woman I know to move in with us a few weeks ago.  She is exactly my age, ragged and rough around the edges, but beautiful, and going through a really difficult time.  She only sees her 3 children under supervision.  Her life crumbled around her in the last few years due to a variety of choices and circumstances I can relate to well.  But each day she stays with us, she looks better, more rested and seems happier.  I don’t know how long she will stay, maybe a few more weeks.  She is interviewing at a sober halfway house next week and hopefully can get in there.  It is closer to where her children are and her now two  part-time jobs.  She got the  second job yesterday.

I am proud of her.  She is trying so hard and following the rules we laid out: no drinking, no drugs, no men and no cigarettes (she smokes on the back porch).  Walk the dog and help a bit around the house here and there, although we have someone clean it every few weeks and don’t need that done to any great extent.  She made Thanksgiving dinner fun and easy as the two of us rocked out and cooked for hours.  I like her so much.

Is this charity?  Because it seems to be doing more for me than for her, plus we have an extra bedroom, a place where she is safe and warm and rescuing herself rather than letting someone with ulterior motives “rescue” her.

Is charity this easy?  Sometimes.  Maybe it is just helping someone by providing the space to heal his or her soul, with few expectations.

At first I didn’t want an invasion of our sanctuary of a town home, and I wondered if Fred would even agree to having her, or if she would steal from us, or not be responsible with the pets, letting them out where they would be eaten by all the coyotes and foxes.  But Fred agreed with a sweet smile; and our guest turned out to be responsible and wonderful to have around.  Like the rest of us, she is just a wounded human being but maybe a bit more wounded at this stage of her life than we are.

I was homeless too once long ago.  It was 1986 and I was kicked out of the cold water basement apartment I was renting in a dilapidated row house on 118th between Lenox and Adam Clayton Powell in Harlem.  I still had my job as a paralegal at a huge white shoe Wall Street law firm.

My belongings were in Hefty garbage bags and cardboard boxes, just clothes and journals and too many books.  I took a cab all the way to the firm downtown, bringing everything into the small office I shared with another paralegal.  My clothes went in filing cabinets and the ones on hangers into the coat closet in the hall.  My books and journals went into larger file cabinets labeled “X Client’s Discovery.”

I knew which partners were on vacation and would sleep on their office couches at night.  If I could not find a couch, I slept on the industrial gray carpet of my office, waking up with a stiff back.  If I was feeling flush, I paid for a room at the George Washington Hotel, which I called the George Washington Hotel for Women Without Boyfriends.  It was gross there, and I had to bring my passport and wallet into the shower with me in a plastic baggie or they would be stolen out of the room while I bathed down the hall.

After about 10 weeks, the paralegal I shared an office with found an apartment, his mother co-signed the lease and we moved into it, he in the loft and me in the windowless, cockroach-infested basement.  And I was no longer homeless due to the generosity of my coworker Kevin and his mother.  The generosity of virtual strangers helping someone with no place to go and no money to go there.

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4 Comments

Filed under Here and Now

4 responses to “Charity

  1. This is charity in it’s truest form. I am glad you and Fred are there for your new guest and I am even more proud to know you now than I was before.
    Thank you for reminding me that there is always something more we can do.

  2. Barbara Overton

    Marie……you are a wonderful and inspiring writer…….I
    so loved this one about your “room-mate”….really touched
    my heart on this cold, snowy, Sunday morning. Thanks…..
    Barb

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