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Pastor's Monthly Newsletter Message

January 2011

~The Unseen~


Dear Friends,


Myra wasn’t an old woman.  Though she looked about 70, she was in her mid-fifties.  But whether 70 or 50, there’s no good age be homeless and living alone in vacant warehouses in Oklahoma City.  Myra was short and squat, but not at all plump.  Her gray-brown hair hung limply in two long pigtails.  Since I’d so rarely seen that hairdo on an adult, I wondered if it wasn’t a holdover from happier times, perhaps when Myra’s mother used to put her little girl’s hair up in pigtails?  I didn’t know.  Myra was a shuffler; she barely raised her feet as she trudged into the public library at opening time.  She sat in a corner all day long, pressing her face close to the pages of newspapers and books.  At closing time, Myra made her scuffling exit, staring straight ahead, speaking to no one, looking at no one, gazing through enormous glasses that didn’t seem to do much good.  Myra couldn’t see, and she usually went unseen.


I was in my early 20s—an idealistic library clerk and selfishly determined to rescue all the living world.  And so, I began talking to Myra each time she walked past my desk.  Since I didn’t know her name, I greeted her with generic statements: “First one in, last one out!”  “It’s a cold one today!”  At first, Myra barely acknowledged me.  She seemed afraid of being noticed.  But with time, she began to answer me, her deep voice raspy with disuse.  Slowly, over a period of two years, she entrusted me with her name and her story: Myra had always been poor, but her life was normal enough until she began experiencing mental illness.  With only few resources and not much in the way of a “safety net,” she’d been on the streets for about fifteen years. 


Myra had been beaten and robbed so many times that she had no legal form of identification.  She carried in her bag a worn-out birth certificate from Texas.  Her social security number was scrawled out on a tattered scrap of paper, which she kept in her wallet.  You needed at least two forms of ID in order to get a library card.  You also had to prove that you were a legal resident of the county.  Now, these things took place almost twenty years ago, so you must forgive me for what I’m about to confess: I issued Myra a library card anyway, listing as her address an abandoned house that stood across the street from my apartment.  My coworkers knew what I had done, but they kindly turned a blind eye.  With the old birth certificate, the new library card, and an official letter [ahem] from the public library to prove her social security number, Myra was able to apply for public housing.  I never believed I would see her weathered, careworn face so alive with joy!  Myra was going to have a home!  She showed me a floor plan and told me in great detail how she hoped to decorate.  The details were so precise that I knew she’d been dreaming about this for years. 


The authorities took their time processing the paperwork to secure an apartment for Myra.  But before they were finished, Myra was struck by an eighteen-wheeler and killed while walking along an interstate.  She’d always been so good at going unseen; the trucker didn’t see her, and Myra probably never knew what hit her.  The contents of her backpack were blown to the wind, and she was identified only by the library card in her wallet. 


Myra had once given me her private journal and asked me to hold it for safekeeping.  I still have that journal, and on occasion it occurs to me that I—a mere meddling library clerk—am the sole keeper of her memory.  Hers can be a sad story, but I choose to see it as a happy one.  Myra might have been a “Jane Doe,” but instead she enjoyed the dignity of dying as one whose name and identity are known.  Myra suffered no pain.  Myra died happy, full of hopes and dreams, believing that she was finally going to have a home.  And she found a way to pass her life’s story along to someone who, in turn, would pass it along…to you.  Myra’s story goes with me wherever I go.  God forgive me, but there hasn’t been a new Myra in my life for a very, very long time.  In this New Year, I hope that God will send each of us a Myra, and then God give us the courage and the youthful resolve to see them, to know them, and to share their stories!