Raw Divinity

On July 4, 1997, my first husband, Robert, moved out of the house we shared. I went from stay-at-home, married mom of two babies to single, working, student mom of two babies.

I was 26 years, 3 months, and 10 days old.

I was adrift, completely unmoored from all that I believed about myself, all that I had hoped for my children.

I have never been so lost.

Or so angry. Oh, I was angry. I hated myself. I had children (two beautiful, perfect, extraordinary children) with a man who I never had any business dating, much less marrying. We were acutely wrong for each other and I could plead the poor decisions of youth until my eyes bled, but still, my children, my extraordinary children, would suffer for my terrible choice.

I was almost physically dizzy with disorientation for over a year after the divorce (which, though it wasn’t legal for quite some time, I count from the day he moved out; it was very, very over). My children’s presence had been constant and then, suddenly, they were gone two nights a week and during the day, while I went to school and work, they were in daycare.

It took my breath away; I felt like someone had cut off some vital part of my body.

So I got busy. I filled all the hours when Jacob and Abbie were with their dad with activity, and one of those activities was volunteer work. I spent eight or 10 hours a week helping out at Healthcare for the Homeless, in the mental health department. (It seems funny to call it a department because at that time it was located in a very old house, but that was its name.) Except for the hours I spent with Jacob and Abbie, those were the best hours in my week. There was no room, when I was with people who were homeless, mentally ill, and often drug addicted, for my thoughts and feelings.

I took clients out for coffee or lunch; visited them in their motel rooms; drove them from place to place to pick up meds, get new Social Security cards, apply for jobs. Sometimes, I listened to them rage at hallucinations; sometimes we sat and chatted about the news. I doled out cigarettes (commonly used to tempt clients to come in for their meds) and declined to dole out cigarettes. I helped clean out the motel room of a young man who had died of an overdose in that room and I held the hand of that young man’s mother and her how he had died.

In our parenting plan, Robert and I had agreed to a holiday schedule that had us alternating Christmas. Facing my first Christmas without my kids, I was filled with anguish so acute I could taste it like pennies in my mouth. I prayed for my rage to melt, for the pain to let go of me just a little bit, but still there was a chant in my brain: bad mother has broken her children, bad mother has broken her children, bad mother has broken her children, bad mother, bad mother, bad mother, bad mother, bad mother.

At that time, there were no regular meals served on Christmas in Albuquerque; none of the churches or shelters that would normally feed people that have nowhere else to turn was open. Juan, one of the counselors at Healthcare for the Homeless, had an idea: we would make hundreds of sandwiches and enormous vats of coffee and go out into the city. We would feed all the people we found, the ones under the bridges and in the alleys, the people camped near the library and out in the open spaces. We would start early and feed people until we ran out of food.

On a bitter cold, windy, snow-spitting Christmas morning, I met 18 or so other people at that old, run-down house. We loaded up minivans and SUVs with coffee, sandwiches, milk, fruit, and mountains of donated scarves, socks, lip balm, condoms, and Christmas candy. Juan assigned each vehicle a different part of the city and off we went to feed whomever we could find.

Ruby and Jeff, the two people who rode in my minivan, told me later that they thought at first I was a very rude person. I had little to say. I didn’t want to serve coffee to people on the streets; I wanted to watch my children greet Christmas. I wanted to warm their cold toes between my hands and hear them giggle with delight. I wanted to watch them dump out their stockings and dance to A Muppet Christmas. I wanted to feed my children, not a bunch of strangers.

Having no home is basically illegal and we spent a good deal of that morning standing in the street hollering about our coffee and sandwiches. People stay hidden so it’s impossible for the average person to understand how enormous is the homeless population in most cities. I would park my minivan and we would holler and walk for a little while, waiting for the first person to come out and eat. Soon, when it was obvious we were who we claimed to be, we were pouring coffee and giving away scarves just as fast as we could.

People wept when they thanked us, said they would not have eaten that day if we had not come.

Dozens of people asked me to pray with them.

I met a couple who was living rough with their two young children, homeless by then for just 48 hours, all four of them in shock.

I held hands and prayed with one person after another after another. It was cold, but my children were warm. People were hungry, and my children had food. There is deep sadness in the world, but also radiant joy. Even in the streets, there is joy. Hope.

Sometimes people take religion to the streets. Those people are deeply confused.

I hugged and hugged and hugged. I prayed with my soul, my body pressed against raw divinity.

We were almost finished, frozen and exhausted, and we decided we had enough food left for one last stop. I pulled over on Central Avenue and we did the whole routine, the feeding and the giving and the praying. I was just preparing to close everything up and drive away when I heard a shout. “Wait! Is there anything left for me?”

I turned around to see a giant striding across Central toward me. He was at least 6 1/2 feet tall, a man like a brick wall. “Is there anything left?” he asked, and I loaded him up with as much food as I could find. I gave him the last scarf; it was much too short for such a gigantic man, but I tugged on it to make it stay in place. He drank his cup of coffee in two swallows. Then, he grabbed me.

My heart stopped. Jeff and Ruby were already in the minivan, chatting and drinking coffee, waiting for me to finish. I was thinking about calling out for them from where I was, pressed against this huge man, his arms wrapped around me, when he spoke, “Thank you. I prayed this morning for an angel to take care of me today and you came.”

And in three strides he was across the street, and then he disappeared behind a building.

I have smelled the breath of angels many times, seen the face of God more often than I can count, but one time, divinity came and visited me, put its arms around me, and squeezed.

The chant, that relentless, merciless chant in my mind? It began to change, was replaced with a prayer: sad mother wants to be healed, sad mother wants to be healed, sad mother wants to be healed, send joy, send joy, send joy, send joy, send joy.

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50 thoughts on “Raw Divinity”

  1. very touching – i felt deeply connected with the pain and vast and gaping hole you felt that first Christmas – i have been there as well.

    “Sometimes people take religion to the streets. Those people are deeply confused.” so very true.

  2. You just totally embarassed me; you made me cry at work. Very touching, beautiful post, and I’m so sorry you had to endure that heartache, but glad you had this experience.

  3. I have an adult child living on the edge of homelessness because of bad choices that we cannot embrace. But I want to believe that if she wanders even further from us, continues to make horrible choices, and someday lives as a street person, that someone will feed her, offer her warmth, clothing, prayers, and a human touch. For the people who love the people you touched that Christmas I say thank you!

    And I pray that you have rediscovered your joy!

    1. Sigh.

      Yes. People are people are people. My children are all still at home (mine or their dad’s) but I pray that someday, if they are in trouble, someone sees them as people, deserving of kindness.

      Yes, I have rediscovered my joy! I laugh. Often.

  4. So I listened to what you said on Twitter, while you were gone I read your post. And I am so glad I did.

    It’s very brave for a young mother to realize “it” is not working, have the strength to move on, or rather, move him out, then move on. So many couples just stick with it — and often they don’t end up happy at all. Their children, ditto.

    When I was a student, back in Lyon, in France, I served meals to the homeless every week for about a year. It made me realize all the things I took for granted. Even my own independence. Who can claim to be 17, trusted by her parents to live on her own, work on the side for gas money and food, and go to school to have a good shot at life.

    Your writing style is very compelling, thank you for letting me enjoy your story.

    May I ask, why prompted you to write it today?

    1. Thank you.

      I was working on my post for Small Moments Monday over at Nichole’s blog. The blog post I’m writing is kind of broad, and it reminded me of this story. It wouldn’t fit in my post for her, but I had to write it that very minute.

      So I did. 😉

  5. The depth of who you are never ceases to amaze me.
    Your empathy, kindness, and generosity know no bounds.
    I am so fortunate to know you.
    Beautiful post.

  6. Its amazing what kind of healing can take place when you step out to help others. This is a beautiful, amazing story. I read it yesterday, it moved me so much I couldn’t even find the words to comment at the time.

    You really are an incredible writer. And a pretty awesome person.

  7. This is no fair. You and Kris (Pretty All True) BOTH made me cry at work today!
    At least you have your comments open….Kris, I’m talking to you, I know you’re reading…
    Big love to both of you for being brave enough & strong enough to put it all out here, and for being generous enough to share so much of your time so we always have some wonderful writing to look forward to.
    The stories I have in spades, many I should write down just because they slip away sometimes, but time is preciously short.

    1. Yes, time is very hard to find! And thank you so, so much. Sometimes, after I put up a post that is very raw, I feel almost unbearably exposed and consider taking them down (I’ve never done it, but I’ve thought about it often), and then? Wonderful comments like this one, so thank you.

  8. You know, GOOD FOR YOU, for getting out there and helping others. Some people would be more inclined to not do that and then they would be STUCK in their worry. Your post and the writing and the prayer at the end, so beautiful. And human. Full of pain and hope at the same time.

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, pain/hope/pain/hope, all twisted up with each other. I’ll be forever grateful that I got my ass out of bed and showed up for that.

  9. you are KILLING me over here
    seriously, stop
    you are gonna mess up my make up.
    air hugs
    you know i’m not a hugger either
    but if we ever meet
    someone will have to pry my cold dead hands off of you
    to ever let you go!

    1. I live for the messing up of make-up.

      No points for style, remember?

      I’m not a hugger either, but I do believe I could hug you. Yes, I think so.

      Love.

  10. I remember the first Christmas my son wasn’t with me…the first Christmas night I was alone in my life, ever…

    And I cried and cried…

    I had family to be with on the day, but that night when I went home to my sad little apartment with no little one asleep with toys in his bed, no husband…

    I cried.

    I am glad divinity found you that day.

    1. Thank you.

      Yes, the crying. I cried until I felt like a hollow shell. I had family to be with, too, but that was worse, to be with them and J&A so obviously absent.

      Thankfully, divinity found me right where I happened to be that day.

  11. Just wow.

    One of the absolute best blog posts I have read.

    Adrienne, you are amazing. I am in awe.

  12. Beautiful post. That was so very touching. I try hard to remember in my life that no matter how sad that I may be at a given moment that I am truly lucky for all that I have. Seeing that family on the street must have been shocking, being able to derive such value from it and apply it to your situation was pivotal. You are a great writer, I will be back to visit your site often. Thanks!

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