It was about one year ago I made a difficult change in my life. It didn’t affect many people. It was simply that I had decided to befriend and get to know a homeless person. I felt like St. Francis, I had an aversion to the destitute of society and I needed to break that association and come to know them as children of God.
It so happened that there was a colored woman who every morning would sit in front of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral gift shop on 51st street (right over a grate where heat would come up). I remember before the first day I approached her I used to look down at her. I remember there was always crumbled food next to her and I thought it was disgusting. I always averted contact with people like her believing that many are drug addicts, alcoholic etc. and that I should not give them money because I may be supporting their habit. So though I knew in my mind they actually have the same gift of life from God that I have, I treated them like lesser people.
Then I made the effort. It started at first I would just give her a few dollars a day, which made me feel better. However I truly did not change until she asked me my name. Her name was Ann. She had a beautiful smile when you spoke to her. The crumbs she placed on the ground where there to feed the birds. She was an avid reader and enjoyed science fiction. She smoked cigarettes, but only two or three a day. Every day I saw her brought me great joy. She would ask me about my family, my children, my weekend, and my business trips. I would ask her about her health and if she needed anything. She always said she was fine.
Then one week she was not in her spot for a few days. I was concerned and hoped she would come back soon. On Thursday morning she was back. She told me she has a heart condition and had been in the hospital. I told her I would pray for her recovery and I asked her to quit smoking. That was a few months ago.
Recently, I went to mass with a coworker who I had gotten a Mass said for his departed grandmother. I saw my friend enjoy the mass and feel close to his grandmother a year after her death. We came out of the cathedral and went across the street; I was sharing with him my morning routine and so I introduced him to Ann. Ann said to me, “You’re really happy this morning.” I said I was because my friend Gerry was with me. Gerry said hello and I gave her some money and we said goodbye. It was a special morning.
The week before Ann told me one of her favorite book collections is “The Lord of the Rings”. I was planning on bringing her the full collection in paperback as a gift. Then sadly the day after I spoke to her with Gerry she was not at her normal spot. It has now been almost three weeks since I have seen her. I looked for her at lunch time in different buildings with public parks where she told me she is often found. I did not find her. I have been praying for her everyday hoping that she is well and that I may see her gain.
Sadly I fear that she may not be coming back. I know she would have good and bad days with her heart condition and she often talked it down. Now I am thinking that I may not have done enough to help her. I should have tried harder. I know that I did not give to her as much as she gave to me. She opened my eyes and my heart to the love of God. Her concern for me, a person in a much better state in life, made a significant impression on me. She truly cared for me as a true friend. She had love, the kind of love that we should share and have for all people. She had a truly Christian heart and I will strive to be like her.
I still hold hope that she may come back. But if the good Lord took her I am certain that she is in the bosom of his love. I will continue praying for her everyday not knowing for sure what has happened to her. And if she is in Heaven I know that she prays for me to our Lord.
With love in my heart I say God bless you Ann wherever you may be.
*Written in 2006