How a Not-So-Chance Encounter Landed a Message
Her name, quietly spoken as she stretched into her morning; wide-set, deep brown eyes blinking slowly into the rays of sunrise coming across the horizon, came as a whisper that landed in my heart.
Patience. My name is Patience.
She and her partner Anthony had been sleeping outside the front of my business for a few days. I’d see them curled up together under a massive blanket, a parenthentical expression of mutual protection tucked up against the fence of the property. I’d see them as I went outside to get the garbage cans sorted and set out the water bowls for the dogs. By the time I was done they’d have collected their things and moved away.
On this particular morning I rose a bit earlier than usual and so they were still sound asleep when I opened the gate near their resting spot. At closer range I could see they were young, early 20s at most, and the expressions when they saw me were mixed — fear, mostly.
“Good morning, I’m Cathy. What are your names?”
He walked over immediately, wide grin and outstretched hand. “Hi. I’m Anthony.”
She was a bit slower to rise and approached me with hesitation. Standing behind her partner, she reached her hand around towards me, ducking her head and smiling quietly, “and I’m Patience.”
Something about her countenance caught my heart and we began to talk a bit. About the sunrise, mostly, as it was particularly stunning that day. The warm early morning breeze and the birds that had gathered in the tree above us singing. I paused and asked them if they’d like some coffee. They responded without words, just looking at me in surprise and nodding.
When I came back outside a few minutes later with a small tray holding the cups, some creamers and sugar, they reached out gently almost as if afraid to take it. The minute she held the cup, she raised it to her face taking a deep whiff and quietly saying, “Wow. It’s so nice and hot.”
This began a morning ritual. I’d make sure to rise just a little earlier, going out to greet them, and then going back inside to get the coffee. By the time I’d get back outside they’d have gathered their things and be waiting to sit with the coffee and talk a little.
It was on the fifth morning that something was different. This morning there was a stroller. At first I didn’t pay it too much attention. Lots of folks who are displaced from housing have strollers or carts for belongings. When I approached, though, I saw that they did have a baby. A beautiful 8-month-old baby girl. Her name is Adia. Beaming with dimples for days, little Adia looked up at me with the kind of trust and joy that can only exist in a place where there is love.
My first thought was how beautiful and peaceful she was. How joyous and relaxed in spite of the circumstances. That her pink onesie was sparkling clean and fresh. My next thought — where has this baby been the last several days?
So I asked.
Turned out that a friend had been minding Adia so that she wasn’t sleeping on the street. They weren’t sleeping there because the apartment complex forbids tenants to have guests. Little Adia, they thought, could stay there unnoticed, keeping her from being on the street. But apparently she’d been crying a bit the night before, a neighbor had complained, and the friend could not have the baby there any longer.
Now you might ask — why on earth would they not contact some services so they could find shelter? Don’t they have any family they can contact?
Good questions, and yes, I asked them. Most shelters, if they were co-ed, didn’t take families. The few that did were so overextended there just weren’t any beds. They occasionally found a place where one of them could go with the baby and the other would be on the street. They were afraid to contact any other City services, because they were afraid they’d lose their baby. They’d been robbed weeks prior and lost all credit cards and ID and cell phones. They managed to get a phone with a limited cell plan where they could receive texts for basic communication but essentially they were on the street, with no resources and cut off.
Why didn’t they call home collect? Figure out how to connect with their families back in Southern California? If they didn’t know numbers, what about directory assistance? They had that cell phone, why not get a message to family to contact them?
Easy to say, harder for a young couple who was feeling shame, defeated and afraid. Instead, they went into survival mode — the only true thing that mattered to them was keeping their baby happy, healthy and safe. Any money they had went to making sure Adia was fed, clean and clothed.
For several days I’d see them in the morning, bringing them coffee and hot oatmeal and watch as they packed up and went on their way. Each day we’d talk a bit more and I learned about the circumstances that had led to their being on the street, the deep shame they were struggling with and their deep desire to get back on their feet.
I asked if they would be willing to accept resources if I were able to muster them. The look they gave me was almost as heartbreaking as the stories they’d already told. It was a look of defeat. That no one would help them. That they were stuck and they were just going to have to make do. I was just another person who was going to let them down.
I don’t have kids, but if I did these kids could easily be mine. They belonged to someone. There were mothers somewhere wondering if their kids were okay. That wasn’t okay with me.
So I made a call to my City Councilwoman’s office. Olivia Diaz and her team responded immediately, getting me in touch with the M.O.R.E unit — a group dedicated to accessing all of the City’s resources to support people experiencing housing displacement. They called me back and told me they’d send someone out to talk with Anthony and Patience. Next morning I went outside, and the kids were still there. I asked if anyone had come by. No one had.
It was about 15 minutes after Anthony and Patience had trundled off to their daily routine that the vans showed up along with a City Marshall. I gave them the stories I’d received. Sadly the stories I shared weren’t new to these folks, and they also shared that unfortunately a lot of times the stories that were told by the folks who the services were trying to help, weren’t actually even true.
Taking a deep breath, I brushed off the wave of cynicism I could feel rising. No. I was going to trust my gut and my gut told me these kids were good kids, truly wanting a hand up not a hand out and just needing someone to give a shit about them. I gave them Anthony’s cell number, and told them I’d give the kids the heads up they’d be in touch.
Then I waited for the next morning.
Dawn came and I stepped outside and found them rising as usual. As I passed over the now routine coffee and oatmeal I told them they would be getting a text from a Mario Guzman and that he was going to get them help.
There was a moment of silence as Anthony and Patience just stared at me and then asked me to repeat what I’d just told them.
“You’re going to get a text from a Mario Guzman. He’s with an organization that has access to all the services in town that can help you. He’s going to make sure you get what you need.”
I could see they didn’t believe it. That this was just another promise that wouldn’t be kept. But I just kept repeating that this was going to happen and they just had to trust me.
The next morning they weren’t outside.
I called Mario to thank him and he said that they actually hadn’t connected with the kids. My heart sank and I wondered if perhaps I’d scared them away. That maybe there was another story — something they were hiding, someone they were running from, a deeper secret that they’d not yet had the trust to tell me. I hung up the phone and cried.
Next morning I had been up a while and didn’t even bother looking outside. Then I heard what sounded like a van door closing and an engine starting up. I walked outside to see Anthony and Patience getting their belongings together as a white City of Las Vegas van pulled away from the curb.
They heard the door and turned to me with ear to ear grins.
“Miss Cathy! We’re going home! That nice man was able to get us connected to Anthony’s mom. She’d been looking for us and was so glad to hear we are okay. She got us an apartment and sent us bus tickets. We leave at 3pm today. Anthony even has a job back home waiting for him!”
I could see the glow in Patience’s eyes from where I stood 30 feet away. A brightness — the light of hope.
The next moments were filled with hugs and laughter as I grabbed them tight and wished them a life of only good things and success. Then I remembered I had a little teddy bear in my office. I ran back inside to grab it and when I got outside they had little Adia up and dressed in her stroller. I showed it to them and asked, “May I?” They just grinned in return.
I handed the bear to Adia, who reached up and grabbed it with a grin.
“Good luck little one,” I whispered to her. You get to have a magnificent life. Be strong and powerful and take good care of your parents.”
Through tears we all hugged again. “Thank you, Miss Cathy,” Patience said. “We’ll never forget you.”
With that, they gathered their things and walked down the street. The sun broke over the horizon casting the whole neighborhood in gold. I’d seen this time of day many times before, but today everything changed.
It would have been so easy to just shoo them away each morning or make it such that they were too scared to even come back and settle on the property each night — as we’d done time after time over the last years with any number of people. It would have been so easy to even just say a nice word or two, give them coffee now and again but not take that extra step.
I think about the meaning of patience.
The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
Acceptance. Tolerance. No matter what the circumstances may be around me, to hold fast and hold steady. What the word means to me beyond that is the responsibility of BEing — especially when the circumstances around me seem to be or feel impossible. Truth is, there’s pretty much always a solution somewhere, if I have the patience to be still long enough to hear the quiet voice that whispers, “Patience. My name is Patience.”