Sofia died on Sunday.
She wasn’t a family member.
She wasn’t a congregation member.
She wasn’t really a friend.
Sofia was just a woman I got to know over the last 2 1/2+ years.
You see, Sofia was homeless. Actually, she kind of had a home but most people would call it a Suburban. For 5+ plus years she lived in that vehicle with her cat. She received a extremely meager social security death benefit of $700/mo but that had to pay for a storage locker for some belongings, gas, food (for her and her cat), a basic cell phone, and for other incidentals that you and I would take for granted. She barely got by on that $700. When something “catastrophic” would happen in her life; something that most people would not deem “catastrophic”, she often came to my office for help. Sometimes she just needed a break and thus I would give her a night or two in a hotel. Thankfully my congregation has a fund for such emergencies. But as for housing, we searched high and low for resources to help her, but homelessness here in the Pacific Northwest is an epidemic; one of large proportions. Daunting, really, and sad. We were overwhelmed.
Earlier this year Sofia was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. At last count she had 12 tumors scattered throughout her body. One, that she showed me, was the size of a grapefruit sticking out of her armpit (sorry for that image, but she had to live with that). It seems strange to say, but it was a blessing when she ended up in the local hospital for the final weeks of her life. She got to die in a warm bed, having been well fed and surrounded by nurses and doctors caring for her. It may not sound like much to you, but for Sofia she died like a queen. Sure beats dying in anonymity on some park bench somewhere in the Pacific Northwest rain.
Many of us haven’t thought much about it but maybe we should. There are many people out there like Sofia. People who, for one reason or another, end up on the streets. Not all homeless people are drug users or alcoholics who made bad choices. Sofia was neither. Her husband died (her sole support) and then 6 months later she was left with no home. Nothing. This wasn’t her fault and it wasn’t due to her lack of effort. Often times, people who find themselves homeless are blamed and accused of being lazy and irresponsible. That is just a short-sighted stereotype and wrong. Many find themselves homeless due to conditions outside their control. Sofia was one such person.
Sofia and I had many conversations about faith. She questioned me often about why this was happening to her; why God wasn’t doing something. Then, in the next breath, she would express her faith and trust in God. She was rough around the edges and rubbed some people the wrong way but she tried everything she could and nothing happened for her. Sometimes I wondered if God indeed did forget about Sofia, but I know that wasn’t the case. In the end, though, I believe she kept the faith.
Now, I am left to reflect and wonder. The question I ask myself is, did I do everything I could? Could I have done more? I just don’t know. There’s so much guilt. Did I do enough for the “…least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46)?
What is my point for writing this? I think part of the reason is for reflection purposes but mainly because I don’t want Sofia to slip into anonymity without anyone knowing her story. At least now, this will forever be out there on the Internet. Hopefully someone will stumble across this post and read it. Sofia’s story is not going to die with her. Will it change the world? Will it cause someone to come up with a solution for homelessness? Probably not. Will it change you? I hope so.
So the next time you see a homeless person, don’t just turn a blind eye, but do something. I’m not suggesting that you clean up a spare room in your house, but don’t just ignore them. Don’t pretend they’re not there. Don’t turn them into the background noise of a messed up world that is someone else’s problem. Look at them. Notice them. Pray for them. Maybe even talk to them. Listen to their story. Learn. And then, pray for change in the world, but let that change begin with you and I. That’s what I’m praying for because something needs to be done and it needs to be done now. Homelessness sucks. Plain and simple.
May Sofia rest in peace. At least now, she is no longer homeless. Praise be to God. Amen.
The Pastor -|—