I saw her on my way to work this morning. Jessica was her name… Jessica is her name. Walking past the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, as I have each morning for nearly eight years, I saw her. A petite young woman—tomboyish presence and a somewhat gruff demeanor—she was likely in her late teens or early twenties. She was crying. I walked a few more steps past as I processed the scene, and then I turned back. She was standing before one of the three heavy doors that front the Cathedral, her upturned face gazing skyward with tears running freely down her soiled face, creating narrow rivulets of lighter colored flesh as her tears progressed down her cheeks.
I ascended the Cathedral steps and cautiously approached. She wore dirty tennis shoes, thin cotton pants and a grimy sweatshirt. A large duffel bag and a paper coffee cup lay at her feet. “Hey, are you OK?” I asked, knowing that I would probably not get an honest answer. It was apparent that something was going terribly wrong in her young life at that moment, but I had to ask.
“I’m OK… really.”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“I’m Jessica,” she said, wiping away tears with the heel of her hand, and offering me the other.
“Jeff,” I replied, gently shaking her hand. “I’ve been where you are, Jessica. It’s scary, I know.
“You have? Really? I’m OK. I just need to quit drinking, that’s all.” She said.
It was rather presumptuous of me to assume that I had in fact been where she was at that moment, in her moment of utter despair. I couldn’t possibly have known what was going on in this girl’s life, what had brought her to tears on the steps of the church with a duffel bag and soiled clothing—not really anyway. But this sad, troubled scene somehow looked very familiar. Felt familiar. I saw myself in this distraught soul.
I offered to buy her breakfast, but she emphatically declined.
“I have money. I’ll be going home soon. Thank you, though,” she said, wiping away a fresh flow of tears from her cheek with the sleeve of her soiled sweatshirt. “It’s just so fucked up, ya know?” she said, and started to cry again.
“Please believe me when I tell you, Jessica that it will get better. You’re in the right place.” I told her. “This door will be opening soon. Never lose faith that things will get better for you.” She thanked me and I went on to work. I had to. I was already late.
While hanging up my coat at work, I glanced across the entryway to my cubicle where, several months earlier I had pinned up a business card given to me by a man who runs a residential recovery center in the area. Koinonia Homes for Teens, it’s called. They did a presentation at our office for the United Way charitable campaign last year, and for some reason, Instead of shoving it into a drawer, or tossing it, I pinned it up, along with their facilities brochure at eye level on my cubicle wall. I’m still not sure why I felt compelled to do that at the time, but that’s what I did.
I took the business card down and went back to the Cathedral in hope that Jessica would still be there… She was.
I ascended the steps again. She greeted me with a smile and took a few steps toward me. I handed her the card.
“When this door opens later this morning, ask someone inside if you can use the phone in the rectory. Call these people. They do wonderful work with kids and young adults in your same situation. I’ve met and heard the testimony from of a pair of young people who were once where you are now, whose lives were spared. Through this organization they were led from the pathway of despair that they were on. They can help you. Keep the faith, Jessica. Keep praying,” I told her, and went back to my office.
Once back in the office and in the privacy of the gray fabric walls that make up my 8-5 existence, I took a moment and said a prayer for this young woman… a prayer for Jessica.
I know now why I didn’t stuff the United Way and Koinonia Homes information into a drawer several months earlier, to be forgotten… Jessica needed it today.