I was tired.
There were many other words I could use to describe how I felt that day (lonely, inadequate, pained, depressed), but it all comes back to this – I was deep-down-in-my-soul tired.
On this particular day, over two years ago, I found myself in Argentina. My husband had received an invitation to volunteer as a consultant there for two months. Everything in me had wanted to scream “NO!” when he excitedly proposed the idea, but knowing how much it meant to him, I grudgingly agreed. I didn’t speak Spanish. My health was terrible (two weeks before the flight, I was in the hospital). I was experiencing almost constant pain, but the doctors didn’t yet know why. I had two small children (ages 3 and 1) that would be traveling with us. But I took a deep breath, slapped on a fake smile, and off we went.
Living on a volunteer’s budget, we were renting a one-bedroom apartment. Having packed for two months into one suitcase each, we had very few toys or games. So every day I tried to come up with an activity outside of the home. We’d head to the park, where I’d pray to bump into someone who spoke a bit of English (or who would be patient with my few halting words of Spanish.) We’d head to a store, where I’d try to remember what I needed to do (like having my produce weighed in the produce department, not at the register) to resist looking like a fool. We’d head to a library, a museum, a bookstore – and I would try hard not to cry, with every step I took causing me more and more pain.
And so there I was on that April day, awkwardly pushing a double stroller down bumpy and crowded sidewalks.
I was tired.
Having been warned not to carry large amounts of cash, I had armed myself with a few pesos and we wandered off in search of a treat. At this point in our journey, not having made any new friends yet and still feeling very unsure of myself, the highlight of that day was going to be a pastry. So we’d gone to my favorite bakery. I let each kid choose a treat, and I bought two for myself. Light and fluffy, full of rich dulce de leche, and topped with powdered sugar … the small bag I’d carefully tucked underneath my stroller urged me to hurry home. But trying to expose my children to more than the walls of our tiny apartment, I took the long way home, fake smile slapped on my face to hide my gritted teeth.
And then I saw her.
As with most major cities, it was not unusual to see homeless people in Buenos Aires. It was impossible to help them all, but I tried to help where I could – perhaps by giving away a banana, maybe a few coins. Some I helped, some I couldn’t. It was one of the hardest parts for me about living in such a big city – seeing such desperate need before my face and having to just keep walking.
But this woman … I couldn’t keep walking.
In front of a supermarket she had spread a dirty blanket. With two children huddled close, she didn’t have a sign. She didn’t say anything to anyone. But she looked at me, mother-to-mother, and her eyes spoke for her.
Before my head knew what was happening, my heart pulled my double stroller out of the way of the other hurrying pedestrians, a short distance from this woman. I knelt down and began talking to my children.
“Hey guys,” I choked out over the lump that was already forming in my throat. “There is a Mommy sitting on a blanket over there. She has two kids, just like I do. And they look hungry. We have four treats with us today. What do you think we should do?”
Sister, three years old at the time, thought carefully. “Well, what if we only keep two and share them? And we give them two and THEY can share them? And then EVERYONE gets a treat?”
I smiled. “That sounds great. But how about this? You and brother can share one. I’ll give them the other three.”
“Even BETTER, Mom!”
So I pulled out one treat, split it in half, and handed the broken pieces to my children. I maneuvered my monster of a stroller around and looked at the mother where she still sat quietly. I racked my brain, thinking of the few paltry phrases I could say in Spanish, trying to decide what would be appropriate. But I came up with nothing.
And had I spoken fluent Spanish, what could I have said? What words are there to speak to the mother on the ground, begging for enough food to feed her children?
I could think of none.
I handed her the bag, wishing there was something of more substance in there. Then realizing I still had some change, I reached into my pocket and handed it to her as well. It wasn’t much, but enough to buy a bit of milk, or perhaps some fruit.
Maybe, just maybe, enough to give this mother a tiny bit of hope that she’s not alone in this world. That there are people who care, people whose hearts break at the sight of hungry children and desperate, broken mothers.
She took the money. I smiled, and she faintly smiled back. And that was it.
But … it wasn’t.
That woman was with me all day. She was in my thoughts as I pushed my expensive, comfortable stroller back to my clean, safe apartment. She was there as I greeted the doorman and the security guard standing outside of my building. She was with me as I rode the elevator and arrived at our home, where we all had a place to sleep and food to eat. As I prepared dinner at night in my tiny kitchen, she was there.
She’s still with me.
And that, friends, is why I’m starting this blog. For her, and for the countless others who just need someone to look at them and notice them. They might need our spare change. They might need a hug. They might need someone to look them in the eye, to notice them, to know that they’re not alone, because someone else’s heart is breaking at the thought of hungry children and desperate, broken mothers.
Let’s be that someone.
Let’s do it together.