Friday, September 26, 2008

There but for the Grace of God


This photo was not taken in Eastern Europe or the Middle East, but rather right here in Seven Corners in Northern Virginia.

I was on my way from the Falls Church Obama office (dropping off the completed voter registration forms) to meet a good friend for a wonderful lunch at Black Salt in the District. I stopped at the Chevron station and happened to see this woman in front of my car. (The picture is lousy because it was taken through my windshield.)

At first I thought the woman was begging, but then I realized she was just talking out loud to no one in particular, probably in a language other than English.

I wondered how she had come to stand there and how long it might be before she moved on.

I wondered if she had some form of dementia.

I wondered how she came to have sorrow etched in every wrinkle of her leathery face.

I wondered if she even knew the grim news about the economy, or whether her pain was far more present.

I went on to eat raw oysters and tuna tartare and to-die-for chocolate mousse cake and wash it all down with sparkling white wine, but the image of that face stayed with me and still haunts me.

I wondered if I would find her in that same place tomorrow if I happened to drive by the gas station again.

I wondered if a gift of $20 would make a few minutes of her life easier, or whether her problems stem from some other demons.

I felt grateful for my life of plenty and relative happiness. It’s a face like this that makes me acknowledge my good life and the plight of so many others.

16 Comments:

Blogger Mother of Invention said...

Excellent post. These images must surely be presented to us to make us mindful of our own good fortune and mindful of the needs/plight of many others.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Your post definitely makes me think. I don't have any answers. The best I can do is try to make the world a better place through conscientious actions, voting, volunteering, but that wouldn't necessarily help that particular woman.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

It always helps to be reminded how incredibly fortunate we are!

It's not always possible to help an individual directly, given the difficulties and even hazards involved. (Who knows what she would do with $20? For some people, it could either help them or kill them.)

But seeing needy people helps spur us to take action in other meaningful ways, like giving to the local soup kitchen or other charitable groups.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- Yes, we are so lucky.

Kristin -- I may go back and see if I can find out something about her. My turn with the RAK group is coming up soon. Not that money would necessarily fix anything in her life.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve -- I make a habit of never giving needy people money. Maybe $20 in grocery store coupons? That would probably buy a couple of loaves of bread in this economy...

12:09 PM  
Blogger Gary said...

I have a friend who, when met with challenges and trying times, says "well, there are so many others who have it much worse than I do". And although I can note that perspective I never really understand it. Not for myself anyway.

Knowing or seeing others who are worse off than I am doesn't generally make me feel better or fortunate. There are two reasons for this; one is that I believe that we are all connected and whatever pain or suffering is 'out there' effects us all. And conversely (and at odds with that) I think that whatever suffering I am experiencing is mine alone so no one else's situation is going to alleviate that. So, we are all fortunate at times and all need to pitch in to make the world a better place when we can.

12:21 PM  
Blogger bulletholes said...

Love your title...I came too close to being there once upon a time.
TYhe last verse of a song really hits home...
"I heard a voice today I swore I knew
From somewhere down in the southern sticks
I turned around to see some ragged stranger
Bummin change on the uptown six
And I froze like a stone
Could I ever get that low?
Turned my face to the window
There but for the grace of God I go"

12:31 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Gary -- Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if everyone had the same means and wealth. I'm sure someone would still figure out a way to screw someone else and get ahead.

Bulletholes -- Great song. How true! Please don't let me find you talking to yourself when I finally get down to Texas to meet you. :)

12:37 PM  
Blogger bulletholes said...

No, Barb, I don't talk to myself but sometimes...I hear things

1:14 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Bulletholes -- Oh God, I knew it! Now don't go weirding out on me!

2:54 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

and it is that gratefulness for your own blessings that is so important because out of it, you can find the ability to give.

8:35 PM  
Blogger e said...

Everyone has a story and I would love to know what events conspired to bring this woman to where she is today.

While I may never have the honor of knowing her story, her presence is a reminder that we are all connected by our essential humanity and the right of dignity, no matter our circumstances.

It is also important to do what we can and to give back as we are able.

What does she inspire you to do?

11:03 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline -- But I struggle with what to give someone who looks so forlorn.

E -- She immediately inspires me to learn her story. That will tell me what she most needs.

12:16 AM  
Blogger lettuce said...

barbara i always have such mixed feelings when i see people like this in London
(which is often)

that mixture of relief and guilt and sadness

best not go on, but i think about this quite a lot

8:43 AM  
Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

thank you. yes, the title of your post says it all and has much, much truth....

11:51 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Lettuce -- I'm sure London has its fair share of these unfortunate souls.

Mouse -- It could just as easily been one of us.

12:23 AM  

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