This is another story that I had written for DarkJade’s One Knight blog. It has a lot of meaning for me. I try to follow a certain set of rules in living my life that were passed down to me by my Father. One of my favorite rules is the importance of learning to open yourself up, and reach out to those around you. This may be one of the hardest things any of us ever do, but it is always worth the effort.
I would like to share a special story with you about a remarkable woman. It is a story of hope and second chances. It is a story of a woman named, Sarah, and is based on the life of a real person. Through life’s circumstances she was hurting, broken inside, afraid, and very alone. Her story reminds us that it is possible to change, to overcome adversity, to move out of the darkness into the light, and to make not only our own life better, but the lives of others as well. Sometimes all it takes is the courage to reach out to those around us. Some of you may even see a little of yourself in Sarah. I hope you enjoy the story.
If you were to see Sarah striding confidently down the street, attired in a simple, but stylish business suit, long auburn hair blowing in the wind, and an ever-present smile on her face, you would most likely stop and take a second look. She is not what society would call beautiful. She is tall with shoulders a little too broad and a large frame which carries just a little excess weight. Her face is unremarkable. Except for her bright blue eyes and a few too many freckles you might not notice her features. Yet, there seems to be something unique and special about her. It’s hard to put your finger on it. She seems to carry herself with a subtle yet obvious grace and a sense of purpose which at first glance is hard to define. She is heading to her job as a fashion designer in one of the towering buildings up ahead. She is just starting out, but her designs have been widely acclaimed, and she has been deemed a rising star in the fashion world.
As she nears a corner she slows as she approaches an elderly woman dressed in an assortment of mismatched clothing that look like they had seen better days. The homeless woman wearily rests against a shopping cart that holds all her possessions. As Sarah approaches she stands straighter, and eyes, which only minutes before had seemed dull and lifeless now shine with life. A thin smile creases her mouth as Sarah greets her.
“Mary, you’re looking good today,” Sarah says as her long arms embrace Mary’s small and slender frame in a tender hug.
”I feel good, though my arthritis slows me down a little on cold days like this,” says Mary.
Sarah reaches into her bag, and pulls out a small sack and hands it to Mary.
“I have your favorite today; roast beef on rye with swiss and a little mayo.”
The sack also contains water bottles, candy bars, an apple, a bottle of aspirin, and a few crisp bills hidden at the bottom. As Sarah leaves, Mary watches her move swiftly away and doesn’t look in the sack until Sarah has turned the corner a block away. The same thin smile remains on her face, long after Sarah is gone.
Let’s take a look at Sarah’s life, and what has led her to this point. Looking at Sarah today you would never realize the hard life she has endured. Sarah as a child was neglected and physically abused by her drug addicted parents, and was eventually sent to a series of temporary foster homes until she was eighteen. Out on her own in the world, Sarah found herself lost and alone, often homeless, and involved in multiple relationships which led not to the love and acceptance she craved, but to a recurring pattern of physical and mental abuse. Eventually she married a man who spent his days sleeping, and his nights in the seedy back alleys of the city as he sold and used drugs.
He never physically hurt her, but sometimes emotional abuse can be much worse. Stuck in a loveless relationship, Sarah’s self-esteem hit rock bottom, and she began to abuse her body. She started with alcohol, then it was drugs, which were always readily available, and then with food. She found that food was an escape from her day-to-day problems. As her weight continued to grow, her self-esteem continued to plummet and a sense of depression and hopelessness descended on her.
Her husband’s life of crime eventually caught up with him. Arrested and convicted of selling drugs, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Sarah had her marriage annulled, and then returned to a life as dead and lifeless as ever. Sarah spent most of her time, alone in a small apartment where her weight continued to rise as she took comfort in the one thing that seemed to give her pleasure, and helped to dull the pain just a little; food. She is hospitalized several times with weight related issues including high blood pressure and the onset of diabetes. On most days Sarah would sit in her apartment and think about her life and continue to eat. Once in a while she would look in the mirror, and all she would see was ugliness. She often wondered how anyone could ever love someone like her. It was no wonder her parents had always called her ugly and would tell her what a bad person she was.
Sarah often thought about how easy it would be to end it all. She still had those pills the doctors at the hospital had prescribed for her. After all, she was just one life among many. If she left this world, no one would miss her. There would be no one to mourn her passing. Her death would be easy and painless. As she held the small bottle in her hand, she heard what seemed like a light, but frantic knocking at her door.
Opening the door, Sarah is faced with a young girl who couldn’t have been older than nine or ten. She is small and thin with an unruly head of blond and curly hair. Her thread-bare clothes look like they came from thrift shops and haven’t been recently cleaned.
“Could you help me please,” said the girl. “My Mommas on the floor and I can’t wake her up.”
Sarah almost closes the door, but something about the little girls face makes her stop. It is a face which though still a child’s, appears wise beyond its years. It seems to contain fear and pain, but also intelligence and determination. Sarah realizes that it is almost like looking at her own face from when she was a child. The arriving paramedics determine that the little girl’s mother had overdosed on drugs, but will be fine. Sarah lies about being the girl’s aunt and the child is allowed to stay with her until the mother is released from the hospital.
The little girl’s name is Tiffany Ann Morningstar, and she is a survivor. She has survived a mother who is a drug addict, and spends her days selling her body for her next fix. She has survived loneliness as well as the taunts of children at school, who make fun of her clothes and the lunches she packs for herself from whatever she can find. Sarah’s apartment becomes Tiffany’s second home. It becomes a refuge, and a safe haven from the fear, pain and loneliness that her life had become.
Sarah begins to go shopping. She looks for healthy foods that a growing, young girl would like. She fixes Tiffany breakfast each morning and packs her a lunch for school. After school they have dinner together, and Sarah helps with homework. On weekends Tiffany stays over, and they stay up late together watching movies, eating carrots and fruit, and talking for hours. On Sundays they take walks in the park and feed the pigeons. A gradual healing begins. It is a healing not just for Tiffany, but for Sarah as well. Her life slowly, but steadily begins to have meaning and purpose. She has someone who loves her and needs her. She throws the prescription drugs in the trash. She starts to notice that her clothes appear to be looser. She’s been losing weight and her health is slowly but surely improving. She starts taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Yesterday morning she helped old Mrs. Simms in apartment 3-A bring in her groceries. They have coffee together. It becomes a daily routine as they talk for hours. Sarah begins to help Mrs. Simms who has bad arthritis, with shopping, cleaning, and errands. Mrs. Simms used to be a seamstress and still has an old sewing machine. She teaches Sarah all she knows. Sarah buys the latest fashion magazines and practices for hours. She buys material and makes outfits for Tiffany to wear to school. Tiffany has begun to make friends and they sometimes come to Sarah’s apartment after school. Tiffany also helps with Mrs. Simms, and the three of them become almost like a family.
Sarah has changed not just on the outside with the loss of over one hundred pounds, a different hairstyle, and a new wardrobe, but on the inside as well. She is finally realizing how wonderful life can be if we just open ourselves up to others. She has learned that she is not only capable of loving those around her, but of being loved as well. Now, when Sarah looks in the mirror she still doesn’t see the face and body of the fashion models in the magazines she reads, but she doesn’t see ugliness. She sees the face of someone she likes. She looks at a woman with a bright future who has so much to offer and is only now spreading her wings to fly and take on the world.
She finds herself smiling more and starting conversations with strangers. She is just now learning that she has a gift for listening and putting people at ease. She has friends who call her and ask how she’s doing. They all say she looks great, and ask how much weight she’s lost. A nice man who lives in apartment 3-G asked her out on a date. She hasn’t decided yet whether she’ll accept. Mrs. Simms say he’s a nice, polite man, and Tiffany says he’s pretty cute. She may go out, but she’s been so busy lately. She’s been volunteering for Meals on Wheels on Mondays and Wednesdays, she is a classroom aide on Fridays at Tiffany’s school, and she just landed an interview next week for a job as an assistants, assistant to a clothing designer at an up-town fashion house. The job brings meaning to the phrase, “starting at the bottom.” It doesn’t matter though. Sarah has faith in her abilities, and has even started taking evening classes at the local community college.
In quiet moments of reflection Sarah will think back to her past and how it seems only yesterday that she was alone in her apartment staring at a bottle of prescription medicine. Now she has people who love her and need her. She has meaning and purpose in her life. She takes the time to say a short prayer, takes a deep breath and thinks of what’s next. She hears the phone ring, and rushes to pick it up.
”Hello, Maggie. Are you okay? You sound a little down. If you need someone to talk to I can be there in five minutes.”