Tuesday, August 21, 2012

fool for christ

some days ago I was coming home from seeing my counselor when I drove past an older woman on the opposite side of the road, taking a photograph of the geese who hang out at one of the local restaurants.  I noted she had several knapsacks, so I figured her to be traveling.  I swung around at a gas station and pulled up and rolled down my passenger window. "sister," I said, "can I offer you a ride somewhere?"

she was about my age, maybe a little older. glasses, long hair in a ponytail down her back, streaked with grey.  ankle-length denim skirt, hightop sneaks, a flannel shirt rolled up to her elbows.  she giggled when she answered.  she said, "I was just taking pictures of the geese.  you never know when you'll see something like this again."

she asked where I was going and I said, "well, I'm heading home, but where are you going?"  she asked how far minneapolis was and I told her it was about an hour.  "oh," she said.  "I guess I'd have a long walk."  she asked again how far I was going and in that moment I could have told the truth and said I was heading about 20 miles further (I did need some dog food there) and dropped her off at the border without an ounce of guilt.  but something suggested I go the extra 40 miles and I said, "sister, I'll take you to minneapolis."

so she tossed her things in the back seat and got in and we exchanged names.  hers was kora (it might have been "coral").  I was facing north when I picked her up and she was surprised I turned around and headed back to the interstate:  "isn't minneapolis that direction?" she said, pointing back the way she'd been walking. "no," I said, "it's west of where we are."  "oh, I would have had a very long walk and gotten nowhere!" she said.

almost immediately she told me she was a street preacher who ministered to the homeless, that god had told her to leave her home a year and a half ago and go out on the road.  I said I was also a preacher.  we asked what each was.  she was "just christian," she said, "just jesus out of the book."  she had heard of unitarian universalists and had met a few and been impressed by them.  she filled up nearly every second of our drive with talk and questions and confessions.

she had left her abusive husband, she said, 5 years ago and back outside denver.  she'd started out 3 days before at a truckstop in south dakota and had been approached by a jamaican woman whose husband was a trucker and asked if she'd come home with them to help her get herself together.  but then this woman had stopped taking her meds, she said, and progressively got more and more aggressive, yelling and berating her, finally literally throwing her bags out of the truck when they'd stopped for gas at the station where I turned around.  she'd camped for 2 nights in the woods nearby, to pray and settle herself, before heading back out, and then had attended midweek services at a lutheran church not far out of town--I know the place, it's a few miles from my house--where she'd heard from people there that there are a lot of homeless people in minneapolis.  so she'd decided to head there (but apparently hadn't a very good idea of where it was from the part of the rim she was on).  I told her she'd likely been driven through minneapolis by the trucker and his wife.

she had been born in alsace-lorraine, she said, but couldn't speak more than rudimentary french and german, and her mother was long dead but her father was ungodly and so dead to her.  she'd grown up somewhere out west, she was very vague about it, and mentioned a daughter who was married.  I tried on occasion to ask about her family but it was like trying to blow into a whirlwind.  she was a talking machine, sometimes punctuating sentences with "praise god!" and "lord, that's your way!" and sometimes girlish giggles.  she was attending an online bible college out of australia run by an evangelical couple that gave 2 types of courses, free and paid for.  she was taking all of them free so she wouldn't get a degree but she didn't think that was important for the ministry she was doing.  she had no idea where she was going or what she would do when she got there except to preach the word to people as she could and if they'd listen and rely on their goodness.  she said that god and jesus had kept her safe and healthy all her time on the road.  she didn't care much, she said, of what anyone else's opinion of her was, she would just be as crazy as jesus wanted her in order to do his work.  I said she was being a fool for christ.  she allowed she'd never heard that phrase but she thought it suited her perfectly.  she repeated it several times during our ride.

she asked me about uuism and I gave her a short answer about no one knowing about an afterlife but we know we have this one and it's important how we treat each other here.  she thought that was wonderful and wanted to experience a uu service so I told her where the nearest congregation was in the area where I was dropping her off.  she'd mentioned her reliance on libraries several times so I told her the perfect place I could think of to drop her off at was on one end of nicollet mall by the county library.  she said that sounded perfect.  when we got there I pulled off to the side of the street and helped her unload and then shoulder everything, we exchanged hugs and "god bless you"s, and I watched her waddle around the corner before driving off and heading back out to the rim.

later, my wife would ask me "do you think she was crazy?" and I'd answer, "yes."  she'd mentioned refusing to take mental health exams in order to receive social services, claiming that second timothy says you can't be crazy and a christian, so since she was christian she wasn't crazy.  but did I think she was a danger to herself or other people?  not for a second.  she seemed to have a solid understanding of life on the road, and if she didn't have it when she started, by this time she had.  she seemed to know how to stay safe--she said she'd never been physically harmed by anyone and I believe her--and when to recharge her energies.  after all, she'd spent a couple nights alone in order to pray and "get herself together."  and she didn't seem too concerned about getting anywhere in particular or getting something done.  she wasn't upset when she found she'd been heading in the wrong direction.  she was content to drift along, going where her god sent her and doing what she thought her god wanted her to do, and from what she told me it seemed what her god wanted wasn't very different from what my god wants me to do:  serve people and help them be as human as possible.  she didn't want anyone to stop doing anything he or she wasn't interested in stopping, just maybe to think about doing something else and being with them while they went about their lives.  she seemed extraordinarily happy and she said she wasn't on any meds--not being crazy--and didn't do drugs or alcohol or smoke.  she just liked people, she said.

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