--originally published on Waters of Mormon on November 8, 2008--
Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.” 2 Nephi 26: 26
My mother has never been one to protect my sister and me from the wicked things of this world, I suppose in the hopes of teaching us something about it. My last trip to New York City as a non-member was no exception.
The last night we were in the city, we were hopelessly lost in the business district of Manhattan some time after six in the evening. The streets were deserted—an eerie contrast to the bright and bustling hub of Times Square. As the sun set behind the towering buildings on the horizon, my worry for my family became more pronounced in the dying light. I looked to my mother, the citadel and Ma Joad of our existence, and saw a tired, care-worn woman pouring over a map that had long proved to be useless. I can imagine her still, refusing to acknowledge worry or defeat for the sake of keeping our confidence. I felt powerless in her shadow, but my confidence in her faded with each rat that scurried across the sidewalk, each pole dancer that entered the “gentlemen’s club” across the street, with the anxiety that spilled into the evening air with the steam beneath the manhole covers.
We’re all going to die, I decided finally, plopping myself down on the sidewalk.
It soon became necessary to caffeinate my mother, so my death was thankfully interrupted by a trip to Dunkin Donuts that changed my outlook on life forever.
A homeless woman with an overstuffed, black plastic bag slung over her shoulder was walking down the sidewalk across the street. Even from where I was standing, I could hear her incoherent yelling to someone I had assumed was behind her. I could make out only one repeated phrase from where I was.
“GET OUTTA MY HOUSE! Y’AIN’T WELCOME IN MY HOUSE! GET OUTTA MY HOUSE!”
I laughed at her, despite myself, because I honestly felt scared enough to cry. A tumult of sympathy for this deranged stranger, my exhaustion from a day surrounded by people and their constant noise, and silent misery disguised as maturity became too much for me to face anymore. I laughed at this poor battered soul as she dug through trash cans for things to add to her Atlas-like burden. It was only at that moment that my mother finally spoke to me.
“She’s probably a schizophrenic woman whose family doesn’t know where she is, and she doesn’t have any more medication. It isn’t right to laugh at her.”
I realized two things in that moment that I still keep with me: my mother may not know where she is sometimes, but she is never lost; and the suffering of this woman was meant to teach me something.
Many might object to the idea of a schizophrenic homeless lady being a messenger for the Lord, but I am convinced that even the unlikeliest of people can be angels of warning. Whether on the streets of New York City or in a classroom at BYU in Provo, Utah, the idea that Heavenly Father’s love could be so entirely conditional does not seem to go away.