Scars on My Heart

Today as I was leaving the 8:00 church service, which is mostly attended by folks living on the streets, a man stopped me. I was in my car; he was on foot. He stood in the exit to the parking lot, flagging me down. He’d already stood before me in the hall where breakfast is served, asking me to go find the pastor. He didn’t remember that.

When I rolled the window, he tugged his shirt tail from his britches.
“I’ve been sliced down the middle,” he said. On his bare abdomen, a wound ran from belly button to sternum.

I gave him two dollars. He wanted one, until I said two. Then he wanted four. I stuck with two. He began to sob. I told him two is what I wanted to do. He released my hand; the crying stopped. He went on his way.

The wound was yellow, not yet healed. I’d never seen anything like it.

***

At noon today, I sat with a friend who once lived on the streets. She had quesadillas; I had soup. We talked about her dad coming to live with her. She’d just finished an hour-long presentation to a group of college art students, sharing with them about her life. She told them twenty women were in her group on the street; only three still lived.

In the course of her talk, she pushed up the sleeve of her blouse. “I have scars all over my body,” she said, brushing the skin on her arm.

“God,” she said, when one of the students came up afterwards to interview her and asked how she got off drugs. “You can’t get out of something like that by yourself.”

***

At 5:00 today, I pulled into my garage and paused, returning a phone call.

The phone had rung earlier in the afternoon when I was involved in a talk with Rhodes College students. We were talking about a new art project for the 8:00 church service that had begun my day. Of course, I silenced the phone. It wasn’t until the drive home that I learned a friend was in the hospital. He’d been stabbed. The knife pierced his lung. He then had a heart attack.

I told the caller, to whom I was so thankful for letting me know of these upsetting developments, that I’d certainly go see him tomorrow.
“Is there anything I can take him?” I asked.
“Flowers,” she said.

Then we talked about how I’d lost weight. “You’ve always been small,” she said. “But I thought you seemed smaller.”
I told her it was the near-constant pain in my hips; I can’t get interested in eating. I asked how she was.
“I can’t complain,” she said.
She’s dying of lung cancer.

***

I’m trying to be rational here without losing my temper, but this idea of “forming relationships with those pushed to the margins” sounds lovely in theory, but all it means in reality is that your heart will be broken, over and over again. Did I understand this when I began this journey? I did not. Would I go back and change my choices? I would not. If I did, I would lose my friends.

But make no mistake about it: it’s not in your best interest. You’d be much better off never knowing, living in your protected cocoon, la-de-da’ing it through life, enjoying the barrier that money and privilege and ADVANTAGES give you.

I’ve hit the gold standard. I’m not “doing charity,” merely handing out sandwiches. I’m not “merely” writing checks (don’t get me started on this particular condescension: how is anyone supposed to do good without someone writing checks?). I’ve formed relationships. I have come to care deeply about people to whom life has been a true bitch. And my reward? Scars permanently etched on my heart.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

"Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness", book by homeless authors, homeless, homeless and violence, homeless art, homeless art ministry, homeless breakfast, homeless church service, homeless writing group, homelessness, the homeless

Comments (13)

  • Beautiful writing & deserving a much wider circulation. I am in awe of your ability to “tell it like it is”
    Please keep y
    This up.
    Meanwhile I will hold out hope for your hips

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Thank you, Joe. I do feel sorta like I was “tricked” by MSSL when I was encouraged to “from relationships.” The unemotional language, the lack of warning. I might not have done it if I’d known the truth; however, I like making my own, informed choices. What do you think? Is that an odd response? Thanks for thinking about my poor hips!

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Thank you, Luanne. I usually don’t do this much with homelessness in one day! I guess it was a little overwhelming, so I’m glad it gave you inspiration.

  • I admire your putting your whole self into relationship with people who are struggling, despite the scars and heartbreak.

    I admit that the story of the friend who is dying with lung cancer hit me very hard today because I lost a friend to it almost ten years ago. Even though she looked like someone who “had it all” to the outside world, she was very hands on as a community volunteer and cared about people across the whole spectrum of circumstances. Cancer doesn’t discriminate…

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      So true about cancer, Joanne. So much heartache all the way around. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend; it sounds like she left her mark on this world.

  • I’m kicking myself that it has taken me so long to mosey over to your new blog and read my way through it. I needed this post. Desperately, especially that last paragraph. I feel every letter in every word in every line, and I thank you for saying them out loud for both of us.

    • I realize I’m an infinitely better person for the choices I’ve made but on days like that, it’s too easy to see how much less sorrow would have been in my life if I hadn’t made them. And my experience is a thimble-full of yours. I so admire what you do—you should see the writers’ eyes light up when I say your name! Thanks for visiting the new site!

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