Homeless Girl Becomes Human — Life's Sudden Inspirations

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

The way she appeared photo 1suddenly just outside the gallery door alarmed me.

I can’t say she looked at us as much as she looked through us, her expression blank and dry despite the humid Charleston heat.

My first outing of this recent day was a lovely morning walk with my brother as we photographed hundreds-year-old churches and through a fence examined the stockades that held slaves awaiting their eventual sale. On the way back to the quaint hotel in which we had been staying comfortably, with its free bottles of water and sodas and its afternoon wine and cheese pairings, we traveled past the site of a former Freemason headquarters and, incongruously, a modern motel. As I sat in my air-conditioned room, I thought of the peace of the boardwalk that had seemed so enchanting and wished it were cool enough for me to spend the day there alternately watching the passersby, reading my novel and getting lost in Charleston boardwalkthought — a perk of paid time off.

During my second outing, my family spent the late afternoon wandering in and out of galleries, antique stores, and trendy shops. It was outside a gallery dedicated to the preservation of birds that we encountered the girl.

“Can you help me get some food,” she asked blankly.

Generally, I am quick with a few dollars or even twenty if I’m feeling particularly generous, but this day I shook my head “no.”

While the girl faded from view, my guilt did not. “I should have given her something, but I don’t like pulling out my wallet on the street. I usually try to keep a few dollars in my pocket just in case,” I told my 15-year-old nephew. Though it was true, it felt like a cheap excuse. My nephew nodded, and we walked on.

“You don’t need a plan; you just need to be present.”
Bob Goff

At some point, my nephew went off with his sisters; my brother escaped the prospect of having to spend more time shopping with me and wife; and my sister-in-law and I continued to look for deals where we could spend the money that was burning holes in our pockets. After a half-dozen or so stores, I purchased a top I was too lazy to try on. I texted the kids: “Where are you?”

Their response: “Leaving the pizza place and heading to the drug store.”

We remarked at their ability to eat so often and continued our leisurely stroll from one store to another until the shopping strip turned into a park. Again, I texted the kids.

Their response: “We are still at the drug store.” So, that’s where we headed.Charleston slave stockades - homeless girl

We found the kids, looking rather serious, gathered near the cash register.

“Aunt Leslie, Mom,” said my younger niece, “This is Beverly.”

I looked around trying to understand to whom she was referring. She pulled  the homeless girl forward.

The homeless woman.

The woman who was homeless.

The woman whose last living relative died just before she and her husband lost their jobs.

The woman who came with her husband to Charleston for a better life but found hardship sleeping in the park and being turned down for work because they hadn’t been homeless long enough get into a shelter and didn’t have a phone number to give potential employers.

The woman who so badly wanted to take a shower, wash her hair, and put ointment on her many, inflamed mosquito bites.

Beverly: Who said, “It’s embarrassing to have to live like this.”

The six of us walked from the store, my nephew carrying the bags of toiletries and undergarments my eldest niece had purchased for Beverly while my youngest niece held the pizza she had purchased for Beverly.

I couldn’t help but wonder what we were going to do next. Were we to head back to our cozy hotel rooms and order overpriced room service while Beverly looked for a soft spot in the grass or an open space on a bench? Were we to settle in under the covers of our queen-size beds while she swatted mosquitoes?

I pulled out my phone — part of me was screaming who does this? — and requested the number for the motel I’d seen on my morning walk. I asked to book a room for a few nights for another person. As they took down my credit card information and informed me I would need to present that card at the front desk, Beverly asked my nieces, “What’s going on? What is she doing?”

No one answered Beverly’s questions. As we walked to Beverly’s motel room with her bags and her food, I handed her the keys and told her she would have three nights in a room with a phone and a shower. Her eyes grew wide and a single tear fell to her cheek. Then we stood in a circle and prayed for Beverly’s future.

Is there anyone so wise as to learn by the experience of others?


— Voltaire

The walk back to our hotel began quietly, until my nephew praised my younger niece for being so helpful.

“What?” she asked. “I didn’t buy all the toiletries.”

“Well, I only bought the toiletries,” said my oldest niece, “because you bought the pizza.”

“I only bought theHistorical church in Charleston pizza,” said my younger niece, praising her little brother, “because he gave her money.”

“I only had money in my pocket,” said my nephew, “because Aunt Leslie told me to keep some there just in case.”

My eyes welled up with tears as we let out a collective, whispered “wow.”

I don’t know if those few nights in the motel, the food and the sundries helped change Beverly’s life for the better, but they certainly changed mine.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

 Jeremiah 29:11

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Your Choice

“ ‘Accounts are not quite settled between us,’ said she, with a passion that equaled my own. ‘I can love, and I can hate. You had your choice. You choose to spurn the first; now you must test the other.’ ”

— Arthur Conan Doyle (May 22, 1859-July 7, 1930), Scottish physician and writer of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries

I am an introvert; accordingly, it is not intuitive for me to ask personal questions of people unless I am reporting a story, and it has been a long while since I have done that. But I have fallen into this rabbit hole called blogging; and well, now I need something to blog about. That means going out and doing more, talking, and, most of all, watching and listening more. Consequently, I have chosen to train myself to inquire more of others beyond commenting asking that generic “how’s it going?” question that rarely elicits a substantial response.

What started off as an experiment from a dubious social scientist is paying off. In recently talking to a student and employee at a local diner I frequent, I learned a few things:

  1. Her hair grew down past her bum in just one year. Because it grows so quickly, she cuts it yearly and donates her hair to oSONY DSCne of those places that makes wigs for children with cancer.
  2. She needs to figure out what to do with her hair this year because she discovered this venture to which she has been donating does not gift the wigs but instead sells them. Should she a.) Donate anyway? Or b.) Find a venture that gives away the wigs? And,
  3. Her family may soon disown her.

“Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.”

— Wayne Dyer (May, 10, 1940- ), native Detroit author, and teacher

“Given a choice between grief and nothing, I’d choose grief.”

— William Faulkner (Sept. 25, 1897-July 6, 1962), American author (“As I Lay Dying”)

In my practice conversation, I asked the woman—we’ll call her Amy—how medical school was going. Turns out, she just finished her first year but found it far too stressful to continue and dropped out. Unfortunately though, her parents have given her a mandate: Become a doctor or be disowned.

Before settling on getting a bachelor’s degree in English I had a few (ahem) college majors: Marketing, criminal justice, psychology, sociology, journalism, and eventually English. Those were the official majors. I also “focused” on film, anthropology, and art history. The problem was I enjoyed nearly every elective I took. As a result, I delayed making a decision about my major and graduated with considerably more than the minimum number of credit hours.

Even if a long list of other degrees have pingponged around Amy’s brilliant long-haired head, it it seems Amy has only two choices: Become a doctor and maintain a relationship with the parents that raised her and the cousins, uncles, and grandparents here and abroad whom she calls family… or not. Tough choices.

“Character is the sum and total of a person’s choices.”

P.B. Fitzwater, author and theology professor (birth dates not available)

While Amy’s action items are limited, she has an abundant of choices when it comes to attitude. She can select to fret, get angry, or to dwell in a positive state. Choosing joy should not be a tough choice but for some of us, joy does not seem like an option. Instead, we cherry pick and wind up with a basket of bitterness, unforgiveness, worry, condemnation, and so on.

Upon recently making the difficult choice to change not only jobs but also industries, I afile0001944359944m now working with a new team. One person on my crew—let’s call him Ralph—is probably the happiest adult I have ever encountered. Being a grizzled, jaded former journalist, I at first thought something was wrong with Ralph. He is so incredibly gleeful that he bounces when he walks, often walking through the office on his very tiptoes. What I have learned, though, is Ralph just chooses to be happy. He is quite intelligent and knows what he likes and does not.

Because Ralph has made the choice to enjoy life and because I made the choice to learn how to talk to people, I have made a new friend.

Me: I am not much of a conversationalist; I am not good at talking to people I don’t know.

Ralph: That is the most important thing in life! That’s how you learn!

When people are being more negative than he prefers, Ralph plainly turns away from them, choosing not to participate. When Ralph finds a funny joke, photo, or video to share—even if the time may not seem appropriate to others—Ralph shares, because it makes him glad. As a result, he spreads that gladness.

Now that is a choice worth making.

© Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is to Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Life happens: My Sense of an Ending

Credit JDurham / MorgueFile.com

When I was about 13 years old, I was at least 10 pounds shy of 100 and still several clicks away from my dream height of 5-feet. Around this time my parents, brother, and I attended our family reunion at a park where there were games, goo gobs of food and cousins galore in a variety of colors and sizes. I was the same age as a few of my cousins and, admittedly, those were my favorites. When we came together, we did it in grand fashion with big hugs and kisses and declarations of love along with promises not to stay away from each other so long.

After a while, one such cousin suggested we get on the see-saw (or teeter-totter depending on your regional phraseology). Not thinking, I sat down; and then he sat down. Hard. I flipped up in the air and flew about 10 feet, landing eventually in a field away from the action. When I came to, he, along with everyone else, was standing over me.

What happened? Life, and I let it.

I began thinking about how often we let life happen to us and what that means after finishing “The Sense of an Ending,” for which author Julian Barnes won “The Man Booker Prize.” I am still deciding whether I enjoyed the book; the characters are mostly self-satisfied or seemingly uninspired with few likeable qualities. But days later I am still thinking about it. That must mean something.

SPOILER ALERT (Stop here if you don’t want to know more): “The Sense of an Ending” is the story of Tony Webster; we start while he is a schoolboy and follow him to revelations in middle age. The mother of an ex-girlfriend in Tony’s youth wills him five hundred dollars and the diary of a friend who committed suicide. As Tony makes various attempts to acquire the book, he begins reflecting on his past; but his past is not how he remembers it. Tony, we discover, or surmise, may not be the innocent party: His history, subconsciously it seems, is revisionist history.


“What did I know of life, I who had lived so carefully? Who had neither won nor lost, but just let life happen to him? Who had the usual ambitions and settled all too quickly for them not being realized? Who avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival? Who paid his bills, stayed on good terms with everyone as far as possible, for whom ecstasy and despair soon became just words once read in novels? (Barnes, “The Sense of an Ending”)

What does it mean to let life happen to you? Does it mean there is no winning or losing? No choices or challenges? How many of us really control or direct our lives? Some talk of creating a five-year plan. Do you know five people with a five-year plan? What about a two-year plan?

On screen, the morally challenged Francis Underwood, the star manipulator in Netflix’s “House of Cards,” goes after life with verbal machine guns firing off underhanded deeds. He makes his future in full Hitler fashion. For him, getting caught unaware is an inexcusable flaw and his wife, Claire, is there to make sure it does not happen, at least not more than once. So Frank plans and follows his personal plotline until he accomplishes his reprehensible goals.

That dedication is a good thing, right? Short answer: Depends on the goals.

Personally, I found jealous Othello to be boor, blowing smoke in the form of long soliloquies when really he was just a gullible fool. Yet, the eponymous drama, in my estimation, is brilliant and arouses questions, like did the famous Moor let life happen to him? Was he unwittingly duped into murdering his wife? Or did he consciously choose to believe Iago?

As a child, my dad signed me up for baseball, mom for piano. I ran track until I let my grades fall. I got married, divorced and made other foolish decisions. Eventually I got a B.A. in English and wrote my heart out. In need of employment after graduation, I took a job the college career office found me, working at a national retailer selling hundred-dollar sneakers to female gangbangers with butterfly tattoos. Eventually, I took a better paying job and then another, until I discovered I was a journalist. It was exciting, challenging and educational, an experience I will never regret but did not plan it.

Now, at least according to other people’s timetables, I am middle aged; I am also unmarried, childless, and have not published the great American novel. I go to church regularly and read my bible daily. Did life happen to me? Maybe. Or was the very act of letting things happen a choice? Have I, by not sticking to my original plan of being a great American author, ruined my chances of seeing my dreams come true? Possibly. Do I regret it? Sometimes.

I had emergency surgery back in the 90s. A week later, after the friendly fuzziness of morphine started vanishing from my system and I was nearing the ability to whine without pain, my mother looked up from her crocheting and said, “It’s just more material for your book.”

Life may have happened to me but I have more material for my book than some who have followed the linear way, with all its smooth contours and shiny doodads. Still, I have been taking more chances lately, making purposeful changes, and doing things because they feel right and not just because I have a great capacity for survival.

© Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is to Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.