Thanksgiving day, I'm reading the paper and see someone I know.
The Grand Rapids Press does a great job each year of partnering with the United Way, gathering a list of needs from around the city, and publishing it on a holiday when folks practice gratitude. Requests are grouped in categories (home repair, dental) and information is given on how readers can donate.
Some are spotlighted with photos; in one, I saw a woman from the homeless shelter where I taught theatre.
Shaquita's got her own place now, I read, but no bed. She's thankful for four walls but, with her disability, the lack of furniture is hard on her body.
Lots of faces came and went during my time at the shelter, but nobody forgets Shaquita.
Shaquita gave me grief on a regular basis. The requirement that she sit through my session was not acceptable in her sight, and she often grumbled curses under her breath and audibly, as well. She'd stir up fights that would call everything to a halt.
When I saw her picture I thought, Oh, brother. Not her.
All the other requests I'm reading with tears streaming down, but with Shaquita I'm thinking, No. Not her.
Because clearly some mental issues affect this ornery woman who gave me hell and made life a little extra difficult for the other women. And maybe people should know that before shelling out a couple hundred--heck, a thousand--for a bed and mattress and box springs. People shouldn't be crying over the words "formerly homeless," they should know the full story.
Is what passed through my mind.
Until something in me wondered how I got to the point of deciding who deserves a bed.
On Martin Luther King, Jr Day of this year, I had asked for a volunteer to read Sojourner Truth's famous speech, Ain't I A Woman.
"I'll do it," said Shaquita, "but I ain't standing up. My feet hurt."
Shaquita gave a somewhat stilted, seated performance, occasionally giving way to the preacherly rhythm of the speech. By the end, she was clearly taken with Sojourner, a woman who reportedly flexed her biceps in front of a roomful of men and asked her famous question, proving that women are strong and smart enough to have equal rights. Shaquita wanted to know more.
The notes in my lesson plan are incomplete because after we finished, I gathered up all the research I'd done, walked over to Shaquita's mat on the floor, and handed the pile to her. I'd been looking for an opportunity to get on her good side, and she seemed surprised to see me single her out, and grateful for the papers. She shuffled them on top of her blanket and looked up at me, her usual scowl now softening.
"Thank you," she said, "I'll read them."
Then: "Drive safe tonight, you hear?" Because she knew I was heading home and to bed after this evening's session, which I had titled "Stand Up For What's Right."