I pulled up and she was waiting on the steps, next to about a dozen other men and women.
This site is referred to by locals as "bum park". It's actually on the property of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic church in downtown Baltimore. Bum park used to be in the park attached to St. Vincent's property. The homeless found refuge there and ministries and churches all over Baltimore knew they could head there any given day to serve the community. We had friends who ran a church service in that park for eight years. Last fall they had to lock the gates because the drug crime was getting more dangerous and demanding.
But, those who know there is sanctuary for them on that property, still curl up on the steps to sleep and head there for food and clothing.
We met Sue* about a month ago when, for the first time, I took another friend of mine with me to help distribute lunches. She was excited to serve and see what we had been doing. When we pulled up to the steps, Sue came up to get lunch and began to express herself with her hands. I immediately saw she was deaf and motioned to my friend who just happened to be an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter and teacher. They animatedly fell into a conversation. Sue lit up! Have you ever seen someone so hungry, they gobble up their meal without pausing or taking a breath? They become so focused on getting that much needed nourishment in their body, nothing else matters. Watching Sue with my friend was something akin to that. You could tell she was starved for someone to know her heart language, to be able to communicate with the depths of her soul and for someone to see and know her. It was a beautiful sight to behold. They hit it off immediately.
Since then, I often see Sue, but my friend who is a translator keeps missing her. Sue always asks about her. I know a little sign language, enough to roughly communicate with Sue, but not nearly enough to hold a long conversation. I think Sue sees my feeble attempts and knows that I see her and I care. We often have small exchanges and it always ends with the sign for "friend," as in "where is your friend?" Sue keeps showing up on those steps waiting and hoping for my friend to be with me when I arrive.
This week, there was Sue sitting on the steps. Her eyes lit up when she saw my car. She looked to see if my friend was with me. There was a shadow of disappointment, but she still greeted me with a great big hug. We did our normal short exchange and I offered her lunch.
"Can I have two?" she motioned.
"Of course you can!" I exclaimed.
She hugged me again.
She motioned to ask if I had any bags for her to have. I've been learning that handled bags are a treasured things for our friends who struggle to carry their belongings. I usually have extra that have held lunches, but today I didn't have any. I saw the longing in her eyes, as this was the second visit she'd asked me for a bag. (I forgot to bring extras.)
I said, "Wait a second."
I scavenged through my car. There were no extra bags. But, I did have two IKEA blue bags that we used for our lunch distributions. They are the handiest way we have found to distribute lunches when we're walking the streets. We can easily fit 30 lunches in the bag and the weight is bearable. I quickly calculated in my mind that IKEA was still closed due to the pandemic, so replacing this bag wouldn't be easy.
Generosity is what leads most of my decisions. When I'm not sure about whether to give or not to give, I have found that generosity is always my default, because I've discovered, it's part of the the currency of the Kingdom.
I grabbed the valued blue bag and handed it to her.
She grabbed me by the shoulders and planted a kiss right on my cheek. It was a holy kiss. The kiss of a family member. The kind of kiss that sisters exchange as a form of endearment, loaded with gratefulness that having one another means we're not alone. I smiled.
In the midst of social distancing and mask wearing, in the midst of keeping 6 feet apart and constantly sanitizing our hands, right in the midst of this moment, I received one of the greatest gifts of all.
"Greet one another with a holy kiss." 2 Corinthians 13:12