They’re like missing people. Sometimes I’ll meet them on the street and wonder if someone is looking for them, because no matter how lost we may become, everyone leaves a trail. Whether it’s friends, family, enemies, lovers, ex-lovers, husbands, wives, children, pets, or maybe just the residue of the things we leave behind. Sometimes, however, people simply disappear. The trail vanishes, and they are gone, swallowed up by the outer dark, only to resurface as one of the nameless rabble, haunting street corners and underpasses, searching for warmth.
Maybe they vanish because of poor decisions they’ve made, or bad circumstances, or to escape abuse, or perhaps they have no money, no job, and believe that they have no future. We pass them on street corner after street corner, in towns and cities of all sizes. We wonder who they are.
Or maybe we don’t. Most of us simply don’t have the time to talk to them. We have our own lives, our own problems. We have families that need us. Why should we care? We are not lost. Surely, their fate is in their own hands. They’re just looking for a handout, right? We work for a living, why should we give out our hard earned money to a bunch of lazy bums?
We don’t always feel this way, of course. Sometimes we take pity. Sometimes we feel really badly for them. And then other times we just think of them as the nameless rabble. But, they have lives. They have stories. They have a place in this world. The nameless rabble is never name-less.
So if you need a name to put with the faces that you see on the street corners, here’s one: Sue Left Hand. She’s another in the small list of people that I’ve walked up to, talked with and prayed for.
On February 18, 2011, I met Sue Left Hand in the Sam’s parking lot. I know the date because I wrote it down in a document entitled ‘People I’ve Met On the Street’ which is filed away in my computer collecting digital dust. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on this blog although there are other people that I’ve prayed for, I just haven’t written about them yet. As I was running through the subpar writing of my notes, many of the names and circumstances had slipped my mind. Several times, I’ve uttered, “Oh yeah, I remember that guy (or girl).” Up until now, I’ve tried to write about everyone in order, but I think that I’m going to jettison that because whenever I think about writing another post on this blog, I always think of a name that is further down the list. I always think of Sue Left Hand.
She’s about five foot two, a good foot shorter than me. As I was getting gas at Sam’s, I saw her standing by the exit. Dark skinned and diminutive, I got the feeling that Sue was not as old as her appearance would have me believe. Deep crevasses lined her face. I parked the car and walked up to her, handed her five bucks and introduced myself. She shook my hand and told me her name. I had to ask her twice to repeat it. ‘Sue Lefland’, I thought she was saying. Then she annunciated a little more clearly, and at the same time the cobwebs were brushed out of my head and it clicked. Two names: Left, Hand. She’s Native American. I knew that when I saw her, but my brain had to catch up.
After that we began to talk. She was slightly hunched over as she spoke and I had a feeling that she might have been drinking earlier that day. Dirty, thinning, jet-black hair framed her face and came down to her shoulders.
Sue told me that her son had committed suicide in 2000. She didn’t say how old he was, but judging by the fact that Sue was probably in her late 40’s or early 50’s, he couldn’t have been that old. She told me about sleeping at the shelter and being kicked out at six in the morning. It was difficult to follow her at times since she was slurring somewhat.
After listening to her for a bit, I asked Sue if I could pray for her. She said that I could. I asked her if there was anything specific that she wanted me to pray for. Sue told me that her granddaughter had just died within the past few months. She had been eleven years old. I didn’t ask what had happened and Sue didn’t say. The lines around her face seemed to deepen as she told me again that her granddaughter had only been eleven. After that there was an awkward silence.
“Pray for my daughter,” Sue finally said then looked at the ground.
“What’s her name?” I asked.
I reached out and touched Sue’s shoulder and began to pray. I bowed my head and so did she. We stood there as the wind gusted around us on a chilly February day in Santa Fe, New Mexico: a tall white guy, still in his work clothes and a short, dark Native American woman enigmatically named Sue Left Hand who had arroyos of age and pain etched into her face. I fumbled through my prayer, but I knew that God heard this one. I felt it.
When I was finished, Sue said, “I believe in Him, too.”
“Really? That’s good,” I replied, uncomfortably, because even though we had just shared this moment with God, I still feel strange when people profess things to me. Especially when it has to do with God.
“I can hear Him talking to me now,” she said.
“You can hear Him now?” I managed to sputter.
Sue was silent. She was no longer looking at me. Her eyes weren’t focused on anything in particular, at least not on anything in the material world where we stood. Suddenly, all the sounds that had been surrounding us, the horns honking, the clicking of the gas pumps, the revving of engines, the cars driving by and the incidental voices, went silent. We could have been anywhere. My heart was beating fast as I waited for Sue to respond.
“Yes, I can hear him now,” she said.
I wasn’t sure what to say. Then Sue filled in the gap. “He’s telling me to turn to Him.” Then she looked at me and seemed to snap back into the world. The sounds returned all at once and we were next to the gas pumps in front of Sam’s.
“He’s telling me to turn to Him,” she repeated.
I don’t remember much of what Sue said after that. It’s a bit of a blur. I know that I ached for Sue. That much was certain. I also felt like God breathed on us as we stood there. Maybe breathed isn’t the right word. Perhaps it’s more like God brushed us as He walked by. But I knew He was there, if only for a moment. That floored me. I realize that God is with us always, but we don’t always perceive it. Well, this was one of those times that the doors of perception were opened, and it was almost overwhelming.
Before I turned to go, Sue gave me a hug, her frail body tight against mine. Walking back to my car, Sue called out to me.
“It will come back to you double,” she cried.
I smiled, waved and got back into my car.
Trust me, Sue, it already has.