By Saima Scott
Too many sick people.
The one-eyed fellow who fell asleep in the plastic chair as I cared for his feet. The woman reeking of urine sitting in her wheelchair that had only one footrest and non-functioning wheel locks.
The fifty-something woman with a hacking cough, bruised ankles, and smeared red lipstick who never looked me in the eye.
The crazy guy who wanted me to cut his nail left-handed who swore and upset the other guests with his disrespect of me.
Too many sick people in Los Angeles on Skid Row.
Mary with dementia who lived alone with no one to care for her.
The man reading the Psalms who had given up on chemo and was living with metastasized colon cancer—in a tent.
What did I need to lean into? I was losing my trust and my smile.
That night was liturgy night at Ammon Hennacy House. The joyful midweek celebration, presided over by our own Rev. Kathleen Bellefeuille-Rice, reminded me we are not alone. I was reminded of the love I had seen both at the Hennacy House and at the Hospitality Kitchen. There was Kaleb. I could not stop smiling watching him sing while he scrubbed pots and pans at the Kitchen. Jed, willing to make an extra trip to pick up a forgotten item. Karan, in spite of her own serious health challenges, being with us. Megan, everywhere you looked, finding shoes, welcoming guests, always smiling.
I was reminded of the sweetness, the gratitude, the intelligence and humor and goodwill of many whose feet we are privileged to care for, and of those whom we saw assisting them every day. I was reminded of the generosity of those who donate supplies, socks, shoes, and money for laundry costs to wash our towels.
I am reminded that the LACW has been stockpiling gently used shoes for our foot care clinic in their tiny and already crammed shelves above the dental clinic they operate. What a joy to be able to find clean, dry shoes with intact soles—shoes that fit—to give to people who have made do with shoes too large or too small, wet from rain, worn out from miles and miles of walking every day.
I remember Ramon, now housed and on kidney dialysis, who brings us papusas every year when he comes, this year made by his sister who is visiting from El Salvador. I remember warm greetings and memories shared. I remember reminiscing with a person from my home state. I remember Nancy sharing her fluent Spanish with the guests from Mexico and South America. I remember the laughter and sparkle in their eyes as they share their native tongue.
I remember the six silver dollars Judy brought home as a gift from someone who was in her chair and a $5 bill tucked amongst the fingernail polish bottles left by an anonymous donor. I remember the warm handshakes, the delighted smiles, the hugs, and the blessings showered on us by grateful folks.
I remember our new helpers from the kitchen, Ramon and Bobby, as well as Charles who was visiting from Dublin, Ireland, who carried heavy basins of water, disinfected them, refilled and brought them back for the next guest. They also served cups of rose petal and mint herb tea, brought us socks and any items we missed before we sat down on milk crates to save us from having to get up again. Generous, kind, holy people everywhere.
I remember our friend Benny sharing this litany from Thomas Merton at our 5:00 evening meditation.
Teach me to go to this country beyond words and beyond names.
Teach me to pray on this side of the frontier, here where the woods are.
I need to be led by you. I need my heart to be moved by you.
I need my soul to be made clean by your prayer.
I need my will to be made strong by you.
I need you for all those who suffer, who are in prison, in danger, in sorrow.
I need you for all the crazy people.
I need you to make me, as you made your Son, a healer, a comforter, a savior.
I need you to name the dead.
I need you to help the dying cross their particular rivers.
I need you for myself, whether I live or die.
It is necessary.
And I returned to finish out the week, renewed and refreshed in our communion, in deep gratefulness.
Saima Scott is one of a group of six women from Olympia, Washington, who have been coming to our soup kitchen for the last eight years to do two weeks of foot care for our guests. This story was originally published in the Catholic Agitator.