I felt like Alice in Wonderland as I stood in the hallway of the big Victorian house, beside my friend Lucia, who looked like a boy but wore a dress. There was a cake on the table. It was covered in blue icing, and there was a sign on it that said “Eat Me.”
Lucia had tapped me on the shoulder as I sat in the library, killing time until my brother Ben got out of class. “Do you have a car?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Is there any way you could take me to downtown Albany? I need to check into a homeless shelter.”
“Yes,” I said, “Of course.” I logged out of the computer and grabbed my backpack. “Just tell me where to go.” We walked across campus to my car.
(I will pause here to clarify that Lucia is transgender, identifying as female though she is biologically male. I do believe that a person should stick with their God-given gender, but I will be referring to Lucia as “she” in this post out of respect for her.)
Lucia stuck her red purse in the back seat, and we drove off towards downtown. Somewhere along the line she mentioned that she had been arrested the day before.
“Really?” I asked, “what for?”
“Mental health issues. I tried to kill myself in plain sight of a policeman.”
“What?” I freaked.
She gave a sort of sad laugh. “Sorry,” she said. “I forget that normal people don’t just nonchalantly say things like that.”
I told her about my cousin’s suicide, and how hard it was on my family. “Was it hard for your family when your mom killed herself?” I asked.
Lucia shrugged. “My dad and sister pretended to be upset for a little while. I was the only one who really missed her.”
If we were in a movie, these lines would have been delivered in a sad and introspective voice, and I would have said the perfect thing in response. Something like “Jesus is the answer,” only in a totally meaningful and non-cliche way. As it was, Lucia laughed at the tragedy. She looks at her terrible life with a cold irony, that what is normal to her is horribly unspeakable to others.
What could I say to her? I have found the answer in Jesus, it is true. But there she is, in a world where she has been hated by hypocritical Christians because she chose not to follow Biblical teachings on gender distinction. And here I was, here I am, trying to show my classmates the hope of Jesus, trying to show instead of tell.
I prayed. “God! What do I do? What do I say? Am I a terrible person for saying nothing about You? For not even turning on a Christian radio station? For doing nothing?”
It was then, as I turned left on a one-way street, that I got an overwhelming sense of peace. I don’t have to be a perfect missionary all at once. I am in training. I am learning. The first step is the learn to love.
The homeless shelter was in a big Victorian house downtown. People lounged on the porch, smoking and chatting, looking very homeless and making me feel kind of preppy and snotty in my nice clothes. I mean yes, I got them all for free, but I also have regular access to a washing machine and a huge closet. Just saying.
I sat down on the porch railing beside a man with a camo baseball cap, waiting for Lucia to register. Me and the man started talking about all kinds of things. Healthcare, hypocrites, all the places we’d lived, the beauty and freedom of road trips, etc.
The sun was shining and things seemed so beautiful. I wanted to come back, and I wanted to bring tea.
It was beautiful. Lucia, the homeless man, the sunshine, the listening. And, of course, the “Eat Me” cake, which I didn’t actually eat. The Alice-In-Wonderland sort of fascination with this little world of homelessness that I was completely unfamiliar with.
When I think of being a missionary, I imagine moments like this.