This is one of my journal entries from the trip to India I took. It is not inspiring. It is not a testimony to what an amazing trip it was. It is simply something that has been on my heart. I haven’t talked about it, because it has been difficult to express, but I feel the need to share it with you.
Matthew 25:45 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
As we were making our way down Sutter St., I was somewhat thinking about the tremendous amount of times I walked down this area. There were many volunteers that stayed in hostels nearby. This was a place that people set up street markets in which they sold many things. You could buy shirts, pants, jewelry, camcorders, DVD’s, or even suitcases. Just about everything that you could think of was being sold within these 4 blocks or so. There were also a few spots to eat American like food, as well as a few spots to use the Internet or ATM. I guess you could say this was a safe place, as far as safe places go in Calcutta. This was the only spot we really were, where you see Americans or Europeans on a regular basis. If you walked into the right air-conditioned restaurant at the right time, it almost felt like you could be in the U.S. somewhere.
A little ways down the street there was a sidewalk almost completely occupied with people’s belongings that lived there. I had previously met a few people that lived in this area. I had even shared food with a few of them on more than one occasion. As you near the corner of the street, you see the crowded sidewalks where many street vendors are trying there best to get you to look their way and buy something from them.
Though this was towards the end of the trip there was still a bit of shopping that a few people from our group wanted to do so I thought It would be fun to tag along and walk with them as they searched for souvenirs or gifts to take back with us. As we turned off Sutter St. and onto Chowringee to shop, a corner, which was normally relatively empty, had a few people standing around. Behind them laid a woman on the sidewalk. She was crying uncontrollably and appeared to be injured. She was obviously from the streets, as she did not appear to be very clean. While rounding the corner, I got a better glimpse of her. She was not wearing any pants. She did not have so much as a piece of cloth to cover her lower body. Nobody seemed to care. I quickly looked away and pretended not to notice. We came here with a shopping agenda, and I wanted to look around. After only getting about 10 or 15 steps away, I noticed a table in which a street vendor was selling what looked like sheets for around 50 rupees. This is the equivalence of about $1.25 in U.S. currency. I thought to myself, how nice it would be if someone were to purchase one to cover the girl with. This could be an opportunity to ask her if she was ok, or to ask her if she needed at least a drink or anything.
As people closed in around us to try to sell us things, I quickly thought again about our shopping agenda. We searched and searched some more for discount items and souvenirs. After more than an hour we came back the same way we came. We were satisfied with our purchases and wanted to get back to the familiar sites of Sutter St., get a bite to eat and head back to the hotel. As we approached the corner, I noticed the woman was still lying there. Now it appeared as if she was sleeping. She still was not covered from the waist down and appeared to be lying right where she had been relieving herself, to put it mildly. I looked away and thought of what I would order when we were sitting somewhere air-conditioned. I thought of grilled cheese and a cold liter of water. After all, it was over 100 degrees just a little bit earlier when we started out. I thought of laying down in the comfort of my bed later and maybe finishing my book.
In other words, I did nothing.
The image of her suffering eventually made its way back into my mind. I know absolutely nothing about the woman I had seen, but there are a few things I may know that I believe are fairly safe assumptions.
One is that her lying there half naked on the street was probably not as bad as what led up to that point. I think about what she did the hour before she was there, the day before, and the week before. It appears she had hit bottom, but the reality was that what happened to her leading up to that point was probably worse.
The other thing I know is that somebody loved her at one time. Someone cared for her. Someone fed her as a child and taught her to be a person. Someone looked into her face, as I do my daughters, and thought the world of her. There were also people that she cared about at one time, maybe there still is. She is definitely somebody’s child, and possibly somebody’s sister, or friend.
Mother Teresa once said, “It’s easy to feed people, but to console or to remove the bitterness, anger, and loneliness that comes from being spiritually, emotionally, or physically deprived, is a whole different kind of ministry that we must learn.” It is said that being unwanted, unloved, and neglected is a far worse kind of poverty than the deprivation of material things. I don’t pretend to understand that I know what that is like, and I’ve never really cared until now. My shame and my regret have woken me up as I have dreamt about the woman lying in the street that day. I have felt her eyes and heard her cry even as I write this.
Do I deserve God’s mercy and grace? I find it difficult to believe so.