"Reflections on a Conversation with 'Angie'"
First allow me to note that the excerpts from my conversation are used with her express permission. They were personal thoughts and I would not have dreamed of reprinting them without that permission.
I was travelling home from the movies tonight, and waiting for the bus at Georgia and Granville, when I was approached by a young lady, asking for some spare change. Before I could respond with my now practiced evasions, (it is strange how it's one of the first things you learn when you live in the big city), she offers to read me some of her poetry. This is new, and I've got time to burn before the bus arrives. I accept her offer, not supplying the change. She proceeds to recite from memory for 4 minutes poetry much better than I, with my college education ever could have written.
I hand her what money I have on me, and bid that she take a seat and talk with me for awhile until my bus shows up. She's obviously not your stereotypical street person, and I want to hear her story, and felt that I'd just paid much more to hear some producer's made up story, I could certainly spare a few dollars to hear her real one.
Except for a shift in economic status, it could have been my story. She started lower so when her family crashed, she ended lower, and didn't have my aptitudes to fall back on. She told me stories of protecting her little sister from her dad, and how eventually they left him, opting to live on the streets rather then continue to accept the abuse. She told me of a boyfriend who wanted her to push dust, and her refusal to inflict that on other innocent people. She also told me of the punishment she received for this refusal.
Part way through the stories, I stopped listening so closely and listened to the tone of her voice, and watched her bearing. This was a young lady (of all of 18 years old!) who had the confidence, and self-assurance of any professional I've ever dealt with. I questioned her about this. She responded "There comes a time when you have to make a decision, you undergo abuse from your parents, and you have to decide, you can either be like them or you can learn from them. I thank my father for giving me the example not to follow."
Eventually, as many conversations like this in my life have gone of late, the subject of religion came up. I myself am a confirmed fence sitter. I'm agnostic. After having recited a common saying, it occurred to me to inquire as to her belief system. She said, "People need something to keep them going. It can be anything. If believing in a God does it for them, more power to them, it could be a doorknob they believe in, and that would be fine too." So I asked, "And what keeps you going Angie?". Her response was, "I want to see where this train stops. That and taking care of my little sister." At about this point, my bus pulled up, and Angie pointed it out. I quickly scribbled my email addy "firstname.lastname@example.org" on a scrap of paper and handed to her, noting that if she was ever in a position to access the net, to please drop me a line, and stepped out of her world.
Never once during my conversation with her did she express more then a quick thanks, and never did she indicate that more money would be appreciated, this would have been beneath her dignity, she had what she needed, and in return she gave freely of what I requested, conversation.
So, as I sit on the bus on my way home trying desperately to type this into the laptop while it's still fresh in my mind. I ask myself, "What has this changed about me? What does Angie have to teach me?"
I think we take people for granted. Here's a lady that if you read her story in a fictional tale you'd go, "Ya, OK, but who can believe the character?" These people exist in real life. And you find them where you least expect to find them. When I logged out of #UF tonight and decided almost randomly to see 13th floor (good movie, btw, and well worth seeing), I never expected to meet a role model, and certainly never expected for her to be a street person. But in this day and age, I'll take my heroes where I can find them.
Thanks, Angie, and I hope my 10$ bought you a warm place to spend the night, it was more then worth it, and I hope one day you will be in a position to tell your own story, as I'm sure you could do so with much more eloquence then myself.