I just got home from a long day in San Francisco.
My car was towed while I was there. I met Mary and Jesus while I was there. I found a way to give back while I was there. It was a good day.
Alicia and I drove up to have lunch with my cousin. I was on the phone as we arrived and pulled into a parking space just across from the Ferry Building. After my cousin and I ordered, I remembered that there had been a few minutes left on the meter and I had walked away without putting more in. I went back across the street to pay.
A ticket waited for me on my dashboard. In my mind’s eye I saw the little bunny from Zootopia furiously giving everyone tickets as fast as she can. I thought, the city has some kickass “meter maids.” I have not been here very long and there's an $81 ticket on my dashboard! Maybe this is part of why the city is doing so well. I hoped my money was going somewhere good and figured I would leave the car there, since I had already paid.
I walked back for tortilla soup and conversation with my cousin. Afterward Alicia napped while I worked on my book. When she woke up I found a quiet spot to feed her, at the end of a pier. We sat and watched the ferries go by. I lost track of time between baby’s needs and trying to be present to her. At one point I picked up my phone and saw the time, 3 PM. I recalled a sign where I had parked that said something about 3 PM. I felt a little bit of tightness in my chest.
We packed up and headed back to the car. As we crossed the street I saw that the whole line of cars was gone. The sign on the corner said tow-away zone 3 - 7 PM. I noticed my chest felt tight but my mind was calm.
I texted my husband and we figured out that the car was at a city impound lot within walking distance. Alicia and I sat by the bay for a little while to watch the seagulls first. I put my feet up on the stroller and leaned back as she nursed.
Until recently I would have been really upset with myself about this situation. Fortunately I just read a piece by Tosha Silver where she talks about her car getting towed and how Divine Order means everything happens for a reason. I reminded myself that I am taking a curious approach to life these days: “I wonder why this happened!”
I also practiced what I have been learning about self-compassion. This is not something to beat myself up for! “I’m human; people make mistakes. This is a thing. People get tickets and have their cars towed. Tosha Silver has her story of getting towed; this will be mine!”
After a bit Alicia and I headed toward the impound lot. My phone had died so I stopped a woman for help. She was headed in the same direction and we started walking up Mission Street together. She told me with a sigh that she was headed to the hospital to visit her dad.
We went up and down the curbs easily with my stroller and I remarked on how handicap accessible the city is. I appreciate so much more these days how people in wheelchairs either can or can’t access different spaces! She told me that her husband worked for the city. I said, “Let him know that the local moms are quite pleased!” She smiled as she said goodbye.
It started to rain so Alicia and I sat and waited it out at a café, one of those classic San Francisco establishments with all local organic ingredients. I ordered a salad to go and piled on my favorite toppings. Once it stopped raining, we continued up Mission Street.
I thought about my mission, specifically with young people. Since I left the classroom I have missed being around teenagers. I don’t know what’s next, how I will next work with young people.
I pondered the possibilities as I walked - should I be a Big Sister? Should I train teachers in restorative practices? Should I do inspirational talks online for girls? I tried to figure it out until I remembered to give it over, and trust that my next steps will unfold.
Alicia and I stopped and waited at a red light. I looked around and noticed a woman sitting on the ground next to me, her back against the telephone pole. She had long hair and dark skin and looked down at the sidewalk. She had a baby in her arms, less than a year old. He was asleep, long lashes resting on his cheek just like my daughter’s do.
My heart hurt. I learned down and said, “Are you OK?” She looked up at me and then down again. I touched her hand and said, “What do you need? Do you need money, or food?” She didn't seem to know much English. She showed me some bills in her hand and said, “Donations.” I handed her the $20 bill in my wallet, sad it was all I had.
Tears started to well up in my eyes as I looked at her sitting there with her baby. I touched her hand and said, “Be well, God bless.” She looked up at me with her own tear-filled eyes and said haltingly, “You are good. You are a good man.” I smiled at her a little and she smiled at me a little and the light turned green and we left.
I walked down the next block, my heart pounding. A mother should not sit on a street corner with her baby. Her baby should not breathe in the fumes of all of the cars passing by and watch all of the feet passing by without stopping. It is not right. God weeps.
I walked and thought about the to-go salad in my bag. I berated myself for giving her a choice. Why did I say food or money? Why didn't I give her both?
I thought about turning around. I saw a young man about to walk by and stopped him. He took out his earbuds and I told him about the woman and baby at the next intersection. “Could you give a salad to this woman for me?” He was confused at first but then understood what I was telling him. He said, “Yes, I would be happy to,” took the salad and fork and walked on.
As I turned to keep walking my eyes fell on a street sign that said MARY.
I thought about how Jesus says that if we clothe or feed the least of these, we feed him. This is how we encounter God. I thought, “Yes, but I didn’t only meet Jesus. It was Mary holding him. I met both of them. During Holy Week and Passover! How lucky am I?”
We were just a block the impound lot now. As we approached the corner where we would turn off Mission Street, I saw a sign that said “Oasis for girls.” I stopped to read more. The sign described programs for young women, to encourage them in their creativity and dreams.
I thought of my conversations and wonderings of late. I miss working with teenagers and asked to find a new way to do so. Was this it?
I walked in, introduced myself to the receptionist and asked how I could help. She told me about their programs, including taking students on professional site visits to encouraging their writing and job interview skills. Sensing my enthusiasm, she told me about the spots that just opened on their Advisory Board.
The Executive Director came by and the receptionist introduced us, mentioning that my car was towed and I was on my way to get it. As she expressed sympathy, I said, “You know what? I knew it had happened for a reason and now I know why. I really want to get involved here! You do great work. This is just what I have been praying for.” Her face broke into a smile.
As I approached the impound center a few minutes later, I actively reminded myself that I am not a victim. “I make choices and am responsible for the consequences. Nothing about this is personal.”
I thought of the people employed there, working hard to provide for their families. It is not a job I would choose! It must be hard to deal with frustrated, self-critical people all day long.
I walked in cooing to my baby, making sure she smiled at everybody. I was friendly with the staff, who were professional and helpful.
A woman who was also waiting heard me speaking Spanish to Alicia. She started chatting with me in Spanish and told me that her car had not been towed, it had been stolen.
She had walked out of her house two weeks ago to find it gone. She told me, “It's an old car, but it's my car!” It had been found in another part of the city; residents noticed it was on the street and called the police. She told me, “They brought it here so I am going to go see it. I just hope it's OK and drivable!”
After I paid the impound fee I headed to get my car and saw her again. She grinned at me and pumped her fists in the air. She told me, “It’s drivable! It’s fine. They didn't take anything, not even the stereo. I don’t know why they took it! They just seemed to need to go from point A to point B.”
I told her that at my church in New York City they say to always assume best intentions. So maybe it was an emergency? Maybe someone really did just need to go from point A to point B? We talked about that a little and said goodbye with a smile.
The parking attendant who helped me find my car was a young black man He maintained eye contact and had good presence. When I thanked him and shook his hand, I noticed his grip was not very firm. I resisted the temptation to coach him on his handshake like I always would with my students.
Oh, but I miss my students! I want to have a way to coach young people on their handshakes and encourage them to dream big and go where they want to go in life. It was my favorite part of teaching in New York City, and I always wanted to be able to do it more.
I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but I see now that I was able to help those students. I know because they keep in touch with me. They tell me how much they miss me and that they talk about me with their moms. They share with me how it’s hard but they are trying to finish school. They ask for pictures of Alicia and send me pictures of their nephews.
I'm proud of them and grateful to be in touch with them. I am honored to have had any influence in their lives.
And now I have been led to the next step.
As I finish writing this I am grateful for all I have and that nothing traumatic happened to me today.
To walk out of your house and find your car missing would be traumatic. To be worried about my daughter or my own safety, or to not have enough food for us, would be traumatic.
None of that happened today. Everything is OK. It was unexpected, and there was money handed over; it was just money. I am grateful that I have it. I trust that it will be spent for some good purpose, perhaps more handicap and stroller accessible walkways in the city.
I usually have a wait longer to find out the “why” when something difficult happens. Tonight I am grateful to have already found out. I would have never walked down that street nor found Oasis without having been towed.
And on the way - so many lessons.
Today was a long day, and a very good one.
Food for thought:
Kristin Neff's description of self-compassion
New York Times article on Pope Francis' call to give to panhandlers (and why)
Oasis for girls San Francisco programs
Tosha Silver's work and her recent talk at Google: