Note: This first portion was written in Fall 2014, but not widely published.
The Day I Met Jesus
A little over a year and a half ago, I was riding my bike when I saw what appeared to be a homeless woman walking hers. She was quite disheveled and had various grocery bags hanging from the handlebars, filled with what clearly were not groceries. She was small and frail and appeared much older, with sun-drenched skin. It was a hot day in Phoenix, over 100 degrees as I recall.
As I rode home, I kept thinking about how thirsty she must be. I had not had a lot of direct contact with homeless people in recent years, but for some reason felt called to help her, so I grabbed two water bottles and rode back to her. As I rode closer to her, I carefully called out so as to not frighten her. I weigh a bit over 200 pounds and am 6’1″, and she might be about 85 pounds, and not quite 5′. She appeared as though she could be in her 70s, but as we know, homeless people often appear much older than they are. I really had no idea of her age, and it really did not matter.
I pulled up next to her and simply asked if she would like some cold water. As she raised her head and I looked into her eyes, I saw the most beautiful blue eyes I’d ever seen. They were a brilliant blue, and captivating. I was taken aback by their radiance, and depth, and almost could not speak. Luckily she spoke up, and with a sweet but broken smile, expressed gratitude, holding my hand. She seemed genuinely happy to be talking to someone. Then, to my complete surprise, she proceeded to bless me. Yes, me. I came to help her and she offered a blessing over me. We shared a few more pleasantries and we both went on our way. My life, however, had been changed. I am convinced I was called to help her in order for her to help me. And I am certain in those eyes I saw the eyes of Christ. I was literally dumbfounded and left out of sorts the rest of that day, and much of the next.
Previous Experience with Homeless People
Before that day, I had been wary of giving money to people on the street, as I had worried about how that money would be spent. I had also had a couple of odd experiences with people soliciting for money before, which leads me to shy away from helping. Further, I was convinced there was help for the homeless people in the various cities in which they live. There is, in many cases, but there are also people who, for whatever reason, cannot live in or easily utilize government designed assistance facilities. And truth be told, I am not sure I could either.
After that encounter, I began to study more of the Gospels, as well as the Catechism, and investigate what it is I am called to do as a Catholic. It became clear pretty quickly that we are to do much more than simply write checks to charities. We are to help who we can personally, and not let our concern for how they use our gifts dissuade us from serving Christ and making an immediate difference. It was then I began buying gift cards for meals at McDonald’s.
In the last year, I have given away many. I see people at highway exists, street corners, sitting on benches, and various other places. And if I can reach them without causing a traffic issue, I stop and politely ask them if I can buy them a meal, and give them a gift card. It is a wonderful experience for me, and they are almost always grateful.
Getting to Know My New Friend
I see the homeless woman in my neighborhood about every other month. Recently we introduced ourselves, and I learned her name is Judy. When I see her I usually approach her and offer her something, typically gift cards when I have them. She is always very grateful and pleasant, and it makes my day to see her happy.
On a recent Sunday about a month ago, the kids and I were on our way to Mass and saw her walking her bike. We were running late to get to the church, but I decided to run home and grab her a little something. Father would certainly understand if we were little late, I was certain. We tracked her down a few blocks further away and gave her a vitamin water. As always, she was gracious, and upon leaving I said, “Have a great day, Judy.” She responded, “I sure will now.” I was glad to be able to help her another time, and was especially pleased that my kids were with me, as it is so important that they see their parents performing acts of charity.
Just this morning I ran into her outside a Chick-fil-A. She looked to be counting her money in an effort to afford breakfast. I approached her and asked if I could buy her breakfast, and gave her some cash. She was very grateful, as always, but for the first time asked for a hug. I obliged and was grateful for the opportunity. She was beaming, and so was I. Little does she know that the few nice things I have done for her can never compare with what knowing her has done for me.
Each time I see Judy, I try to find those incredible blue eyes. They are not there. Her eyes are as normal as yours and mine, and I am not really even sure they are blue. But they were the day we met. They were on a day last year when I did something unusual for me and went out of my way on a hot day to help a homeless woman, personally. They were blue to the point that I can see them in my mind’s eye now, and it chokes me up thinking about it.
I know I saw Christ that day, or part of Him, and He took that opportunity to change my life. He showed me that despite having given to charity a variety of ways previously, I needed Judy to show me what loving thy neighbor really is. It was the day I believe Jesus worked through a homeless person to save me. And I have been gently trying to personally help others ever since.
Update: September 2017
I recently received the following update on Judy from a neighbor:
We recently heard about the passing of Judy, at the retirement home. We know her from seeing her ride or walk her blue bike laden with her thrift store treasures. A close friend of mine had many conversations with her about her life, so I wanted to shed some light on her history. He first met Judy nine years ago when he worked at the Circle K store located on Cactus near Target.
When Judy spoke to my friend, she shared parts of her life in detail. She had accurate memories and was happy to share them. She said that she was the manager of the Saguaro Lake Marina and restaurant in the fifties and sixties. Judy successfully added local dishes to the menu, and the restaurant was very popular.
She also was a prominent figure in early Phoenix history. The people that knew her well described her as ‘old Phoenix.’ Judy was a well-known figure at The Riverside Ballroom. Built in 1917, The Riverside has been closed a long time now, but in its heyday, it hosted many national performers from Johnny Cash to Ella Fitzgerald. It was the hottest place to go in town in the 40s and 50s, and 60s. And Judy was there dancing and having a blast!
Most recently, Judy could be found hanging out at the thrift stores, collecting those hats and toys, to aid the retirement center on 36th St. She was always thinking of helping others, and wanted to contribute something. She is part of the fabric of Phoenix history, and will be remembered long after her passing.
A Lasting Legacy
I was deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Judy. And I found out too late to attend any services. I had not seen her since she had been moved to the retirement home over a year ago. I did not know her life’s history until after her passing, but she like all of us certainly had an interesting one. She had an impact on me I cannot really explain well, but it was profound and lasting. That alone just fascinates me as our encounters were few and short.
When I hear the Stephen Stills song, “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes,” written about Judy Collins, I think of Judy and “her” blue eyes on our first encounter. The lyrics do not fit well, but the title certainly does. I will take to my grave that encounter where I am certain Christ Himself was trying to reach me. I pray I continue to answer in a way that pleases Him.