It was a Friday morning. I was driving through the Midway District of San Diego on my way home after a trip to the local carwash where the employees had done a passable job of scraping the grime from my car after a recent road trip.
I feel I need to pause and describe the Midway District for the uninitiated among you. I’m not sure I can do it justice, but, I AM a writer so I will do my utmost.
Let’s see…how about, it bears a strong resemblance to the grime that had just been removed from my car.
Umm…I’ve seen grease traps in barbecues that are cleaner.
It makes the drains in most kitchen sinks look inviting.
There are some who, after experiencing it, express a strong preference for any random sewer.
Are you getting the picture yet, because I’m running out of steam here.
Quite simply, it’s just not a very, uh, upscale neighborhood.
But, almost all of the stores we patronize are located therein and, if I’m being brutally honest, Ocean Beach itself is not high on the list of places the Chamber of Commerce would recommend you take out of town visitors.
What can I say. It’s an acquired taste.
There I was in my clean car, driving through a very dirty neighborhood when I came to “the light.”
I am by no means one of those people you hear about that has a victim mentality. But may I just say that this particular light hates me? No, it’s true. Every time it sees me coming, it turns red. We’re talking, like, I can be a block away and it has just turned green and has been green for ten seconds and as soon as I approach, BAM! It turns red again.
It is preposterously unfair.
It happened just like that on this day. I approached my nemesis and, true to form, it turned red. Lest you think this is a normal red light experience, let me just go ahead and school you. THIS light lasts for approximately the same length of time as the gestational cycle of the average sewer rat. Appropriate, right?
And I’m not exaggerating. Well, maybe a little. But, trust me, it’s close.
So, I’m sitting there waiting it out when I saw her.
On the corner opposite me.
A young woman of perhaps twenty years.
Her dirty blonde hair was quite short, having been apparently rendered that way by virtue of someone going at her head with a weed whacker.
It was a ragged mess.
As for the rest of her appearance, let me just say that it mirrored her hair.
Quite obviously homeless, the young woman–who, for the record, would have been considered attractive under different circumstances–stood there, her head grasped in both hands, her countenance contorted into what I can only describe as possibly the most agonized and hopeless expression I’ve ever seen.
In fact, if despair had a face, it would belong to this young woman.
Her mouth was open, and I’m certain that if I would have been closer, I would have heard her wails. Eyes darting this way and that as if looking for help, any kind of help from any direction.
As to what manner of help she required, I do not know for the light changed, and I was in an inside lane of a three-lane boulevard, and the traffic was heavy and I had no choice but to drive on.
But her face has stayed with me. Despair stalks these streets the way predators stalk the jungles, and I see many despairing people as I’m out and about.
But HER face…
Within a block, I was weeping over the glimpse I had been given. I will tell you with not the slightest hint of hyperbole that the experience wrecked me…that it left a mark on my soul.
Hopelessness personified will do that to you.
I’ve thought a lot about her since that day four weeks ago. Have, in fact, looked for her as we’ve walked/driven around town, all to no avail. Sadly, young women like her do not last long on these mean streets. I am compelled to tell you that just last week there was the report of a young woman’s body being found in the midst of a large homeless encampment in the same neighborhood. I pray it was not her, but I fear the worst.
Why am I sharing this experience with you? It’s because of all the people who exist on the fringes of our world, many of whom are just as miserable and hopeless as this girl.
It reminds me of the story in the book of Acts of the lame man who was carried by friends or family members and placed at the gate of the temple every single day.
At the gate called Beautiful.
Peter and John, two of the Apostles, happened by him one day as they were going into the temple. Can you imagine this man’s despair? Crippled. Unable to generate any income for himself. Marginalized. An outcast in his society. And there he sat. Day, after day, after miserable day while the good people of Jerusalem walked right by him. “That” close to the Kingdom of God and no one willing to take him through.
But, Peter saw him in his despair. Offered, not only hope, but healing, and lifted the man to his feet. The narrative says the guy went walking and leaping and praising God. Uh, yeah, no doubt.
The margins of our world are filled with faces that are filled with despair. If we don’t see them…who will? If we don’t bend down, extend a hand and lift them out of their despair, who will?
https://www.weseeyousandiego.com is an organization dedicated to exactly that. On Tuesday evenings we feed anywhere from a hundred to two hundred needy and homeless people, many of them disabled Vets. More than that, for two hours they are welcomed into an environment where they are seen, loved, fed, and clothed.
Despair DOES have a face. But, so does love.