I was heading over to visit the chiropractor yesterday when I ran into my friend Ruby. Ruby lives off the kindness of a local church who pays for her small room at a local flea bag hotel. Ruby really doesn’t know how old she is, but looks like she is in her mid 40’s. She roams the streets of our neighborhood rain or shine. Sometimes she is as lucid as you and I and other times she seems completely lost mentally.
The questions came rapid fire. “Can you please help me with some change?” I gave her a handful of quarters. “I’m really, really hungry, can you but me some lunch?” So I promised her a cheeseburger, fries and a coke. “I really need some clothes. I’ve been wearing these for too long and I can’t even do laundry because I have nothing to change into.” Well, I was getting a little annoyed at her many strident requests. But I remembered that I had promised her the last time I saw her that I would bring her a change of clothing. So I said, “Let me get to my appointment and afterwards I will bring you some food and clothing.”
She waited for me on a sidewalk that was bustling with neighbors and tourists due to the sun and the lunch hour. I bought her some food and brought a bag of shoes and clothing from home that was sure to satisfy her. I handed it to her expecting another barrage of requests. She looked into the bag with surprise. “Oh thank you so much! God bless you, Jesus bless you! Oh, I’m so happy! Thank you, God bless you!” she effused. “You are welcome, Ruby,” I replied.
“Can I hug you?” she said. She looked down at herself. Furiously scratching at her head, Ruby began to hesitate as she surveyed the real estate of her filthy stained clothing. In a nano second I was also surveying my real estate, the real estate of the heart. Why was I hesitant? Would Ruby’s head lice invade my dreadlocks? Would my hipster neighbors think I was a fool for engaging in a body to body, head to head hug with this indigent woman who had a reputation for public craziness? Would I regret stepping more deeply into her world of pain, poverty and mental illness?
She looked up at me wondering what would come next. “I still want to hug you,” she said sheepishly. “Of course, Ruby, I would love to get a hug from you!” We embraced and she hung on to me much longer than my comfort allowed.
And my head has itched ever since.