She is perhaps 60, and she has a mother with Alzheimer’s disease and a daughter with a daughter of her own, but Miz Katie doesn’t live with any of those people regularly. Instead she will stay with either of them for a week or two, especially in inclement weather, but other times she stays outside, or at the shelter.
Early in her adult years she was married to a man who was a career soldier, who is her daughter’s father, but she left him because he was abusive to her. As a result, she doesn’t tend to trust men, especially men in power.
She sometimes has manic episodes, and sometimes she is paranoid and suspicious of people, and sometimes she thinks that a person she has never seen before is spying on her for the government, because her ex-husband once worked for the government, and he has connections.
And sometimes talking to her is disorienting, because she will begin to share a conspiracy theory with you, and it will begin to ramble, and then she will stop, look at you and say, ‘but you were in the military, so you know what I mean” and then will walk off.
Everything I just told you about her are facts, by the way. But none of that tells you that she is perhaps the most genuinely nice person I know, or that she worries about hospitality and propriety in a way I have never seen before, or that she sees washing the dishes at our Community Engagement Center to be her special gift to us.
None of it will tell you that she remembers birthdays with an aggression that would make Hallmark proud, or that if she ever hears of your desire for anything she will find you a coupon for it.
I once was riding the bus, and she got on at the next stop. She asked why I was riding the bus, and I told her it was because my wife and I only own one car. She brought me every car dealership flyer she could find for months.
And none of it will tell you that she loves sweets, and will go to the food pantry to get a cake that she then brings to the Community Engagement Center to share with everyone there. And that she loves to hug people, “as long as they aren’t creepy.”
If you weren’t actually in relationship with her, you wouldn’t know any of those things. You would just see a black lady in late middle age that sometimes mumbles to herself.
And that would be a huge loss, and your life would be poorer for it. Because she is amazing.
But the reality is, there aren’t many places she is allowed to be herself, where she feels safe enough to tell people about her fears, where she can contribute and is appreciated. Where she can express love, and feel loved back, and share her gifts. Where someone like you could get to know her.
In order to have those relationships, we first need to have spaces where those relationships can happen. Places where people like Miz Katie, or perhaps people like you, can belong, can be themselves, and can be known.
I wish there were more places like that.