“It’s a beautiful day, Sister J.” “Every day is a beautiful day, Aaron.”
This is a blog I hoped I wouldn’t have to write, but knew the day would someday come. Writing these words feels like a piece of my heart is being broken, because it is.
Earlier this afternoon, I received word that Sister Jane, my homeless friend, passed away. She was rushed to Summit Hospital for a medical emergency, was placed on life support for a day, then wasn’t able to pull through and passed away.
The homeless are our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, and friends. They are more than meets the eye; each with a treasure to give you when you take the time out of your life to stop and get to know them.
Often, I speak to people who are hesitant to give money to the homeless, because they’re worried the money will be used for drugs.
To this, I reply that I was once the recipient of ‘drug money’ from a loved one, and understand what it feels like to be downtrodden in a world that doesn’t play fair with everybody who lives in it. Unless you find yourself in these straits, I hope you can find it in your heart to have empathy for the people who are.
Give to the homeless. Period. It doesn’t matter if the money will be used for drugs, food, alcohol, or life support. It isn’t your position to judge how others will spend the excess of what you’ve given them.
I met sister Jane almost one year ago, today, on a bench by Lake Merritt.
“Do you have .75 cents for food?”
From that moment on, we became fast friends and spent countless hours sitting on the same bench, welcome each new morning to greet the sunny community we shared in Oakland.
Sitting with her, I heard her ask thousands of people if they’d be willing to donate spare change for her to get a bite to eat.
Thousands passed by, not even stopping to look at her, or us.
It was during this experience that i learned what it feels like to be skipped over by other human beings.
I learned what it felt like to be ignored.
I watched as people would spit on the ground, right in front of us, as they walked by and refused to stop to help a woman in need.
It hurt. It hurt like hell.
It reminded me of the reason we’re here. It isn’t to fill our bank accounts with money, but to fill our time with loving memories, conversation, and presence with the people we love most.
It was with great joy that I was able to deliver over $2,000 of donations to her, raised by co-workers, friends, family, and strangers from a GoFundMe campaign, created to give her a Christmas gift.
During the last few months of her life, she would stop to give me coins every time I saw her. I realized that she was collecting money, not for her own needs, but to give to me.
Over two jars of coins now stand on my nightstand, a tribute to the generosity and kindness found in the hearts of complete strangers.
Sister J gave me a gift before she left. It was the gift of friendship, time, and conversation. I will never forget the way her eyes would brighten (wide as dinner plates) when she would see me arrive in the morning, eagerly digging into her pockets to collect her coin offerings, which she entrusted to me.
She would tell me stories of the children she used to teach (she was a teacher) with a sparkle in her eyes that showed nothing but compassion and heartfelt love.
Your life is a gift. Your time is a treasure only you can bestow on those you love. Give limitlessly. There is no end to love when you offer it to others.
Sister Jane, thank you for all of the moments we shared together. Our time in the sun was a thing of beauty and grace in a world that has forgotten what it means to care for its own. I will never forget the time and love we shared.
You were more than a homeless woman on the streets of Oakland. You were a beautiful, beautiful woman that I am humbled to call one of my very best friends.
Be well. I know you’re in loving arms in a world that can offer you nothing but the very best.
You were my angel, my queen, and I will forever be grateful for the time you shared with me. I love you and will forever miss you.
To Sister Jane Armstrong.
The story is far from over. Please give to the homeless, the poor, and those who come to you in moments of need.