One wears multicolored clothes, a wandering gypsy with a raspy voice and often a kind word to young and old alike. Another has the face and demeanor of an escaped lunatic, wide-eyed challenging stare and hair-trigger temper. The third moves with sinuous grace, languid, her eyes consuming the world in glittering gaze or sunken inward in dull glow.
Three women, each marginalized in some obvious way, different from the rest of Us, but each surviving in the community where I live because in small, consistent ways, the community keeps them safe.
The gypsy lady walks the town every day, her amazing collection of oversized purses seemingly as inexhaustible as her stride. She will ask for a quarter or two, sometimes a dollar, and she greets many with politeness and warmth. If left alone, she will continue her long daily walk, eventually striding up the sloping hill to the dark house she lives in. Her story is known: Why she is what she is today isn't. She seldom wears the same outfit twice, she almost never buys groceries and her house is dark but doesn't lack water service. Some say it's her savings, but those who know understand that a helping hand--or a dozen--can skip recognition in favor of understanding.
The staring lady sometimes gets escorted from stores and other public places because she goes off on rants. On the odd day when she's placid, her smile is quick, her eyes bright as a bird's and she moves with the easy charm of friendliness. On most days, she stomps, struts, mutters and snaps at passers-by. She's been known to hit people, but only those who pick on her or disrespect her. A local fast-food restaurant feeds her almost daily, two meals, provided she behaves as a lady. A local store gives her clothes and shoes once a month. And a doctor sees her every month--free of charge--to make sure she's still in good health. She might outlive everyone helping her now, but not the lesson of generosity she embodies.
The third lady is wistful, when happy or sad. She flirts, cocking eyes at men she finds interesting. She never raises her voice above a stage whisper and she never swears. When happy, she twirls hair around a finger and walks erect, jauntily feminine, an actress on stage. When sad, she glides along, vague, ponderous and dim. She might ask for money, though it's most likely that she won't. In several places, patrons will buy her food, a soft drink, lipstick or even sandals. She goes to these places and if there isn't anyone there she knows will help her, she moves on. Her lonely walks often take her to the edge of high-traffic side-roads, where her safety is in danger. Yet every once in a while, a car will stop, she will get in and her walk is cut short, to continue where it will be safer.
My town isn't unique, but something tells Me this unspoken, community-based support of three vulnerable women is. Not because it happens, but because it happens to suit them. These ad hoc support systems are products of heart meeting heart, a group's wish to help one person while still respecting that person's wishes. These women may be incapable of taking care of themselves, but they are allowed to live the life they can with as much dignity as possible. I could state that there's a lesson in there for Our society as a whole, but that would be belaboring the obvious, right?
Then belabor I shall: We could learn much from My community's caregiving ways, much about reaching out with generosity and kindness, with respect and devotion to the idea that taking care of one is the start of caring for all. No fanfare, no beating of chests, no wailing or cheering or cynicism disguised as experience: Just simple caring from the heart.
The Jenius Has Spoken.