25 Days of Giving Day Twenty-Three: Believe

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In 1992 I was twenty-two years old and living in Chicago. The market was tough for recent college grads, and after a part-time series of temp assignments and waiting tables, I took a job selling industrial products on the south side of town. It wasn’t a career move by any stretch, but it paid the bills and afforded me independence and the opportunity to spread my wings beyond the Kentucky state lines that bordered my childhood.

Anyone who’s visited Chicago in the winter knows it’s cold…complete with a biting, frigid wind that can cut you in half and come back for more before you’ve barely taken a step. It was on this kind of night, having worked late and in a hurry, that I jumped into my car, popped the clutch toward I-94, cranked up some music, and began the long drive home.

Just as the chorus crescendoed, my car started to sputter, gurgle, and lurch. In my haste to pick the right mini-skirt, tights, and oversized sweater that morning I’d forgotten one small detail. To look at my gas gauge. Before completely running out of fuel, I was able to ease my car onto an exit ramp, right in front of this:

Long before rap culture decriminalized the word, Chicago’s Robert Taylor homes were the true definition of “ghetto”. Worse than anything you’ll ever see on The Wire, these gang-riddled, drug-controlled, high-rises were the living, breathing embodiment of a failed social experiment better known as Hell.

There were no mass-market cell phones back then, so in order to get help, I had to walk right into the middle of the most brutal section of the housing development, better known as “The Hole” in my mini-skirt, tights, and not-feeling-so oversized sweater. The streets were busy that night, and for the first time in my life I was clearly part of the minority, the only white girl in a sea of black faces, hardened to the harsh elements, who, like me, were just trying to get where they needed to go. I hurried, one uncertain step after the other, to the first high-rise I came across. Surrounded by darkness, there was a security guard in a low-lit office at the base of the building. He either didn’t see me or didn’t want to be bothered, so I balled my hand into a fist and banged on the bullet-proof window.

“Please, Sir,” I yelled into the howling wind,”Can I use your phone?”

“Ain’t no phone here baby girl,” he answered. “You best keep moving and find somewhere else to be.”

I hesitated, somewhat stunned by his response, and stared through the window, willing him to change his mind. When he crossed his arms and turned to watch his security monitors instead of meeting my gaze, I knew I was truly alone.

With no other choice, I walked back into the dark night. The snow was falling with a hard sense of urgency, and the swirl of faces around me faded in an out, like ghosts. I stumbled and caught myself, the slick pavement beneath me now covered in a sheen of icy snow. Not knowing what else to do I stopped. I looked left, then right, only to see replica after replica of a building that could offer me no shelter. In that moment, surrounded by nameless strangers in a dangerous place no one wanted to own, I lost something critical to finding my way. Hope.

And then something miraculous happened.

“I know you,” I heard from behind as someone caught my elbow in their grasp.

“Excuse me?” I replied. I turned, startled to see an old lady about my grandmother’s age who seemed to have come out of nowhere, bundled up in her winter clothes.

“I saw you from the bus when your car broke down,” she said. “Follow me. I know where to go.”

We didn’t talk. The temperature had plunged to a degree that made my nostrils cringe and shocked my lungs with every breath. But slowly, step after step she led, and slowly, step after step I followed.

After weaving around multiple, desolate buildings, we moved deeper into the projects and came upon a county hospital. I have no idea how we got there and couldn’t replicate the path. Again, there were people everywhere, but I had the acute understanding that no one wanted to offer a hand. Except her.

She led me to a bank of telephones and gave me a quarter.

“Call 9-1-1” she instructed, “and tell them where to find your car.” I did exactly as she said. When I turned to thank her for the quarter, for taking time to help me, and for somehow seeing me when I felt invisable, she was gone. She had literally disappeared into thin air. Standing in her place was a police officer, who again took me by the elbow and said three simple words: “You’re going home.”

Sometimes I sit on the right side of God, and other days on the left. On that night, however, I was fully in his sight. I know, with a whole heart and eyes wide open that an angel was sent to me in the moment when I needed her most. I don’t know why or how, but something much bigger than me was at play, and it was an experience so profound that I have no choice but to believe.

I believe in the greater good of humanity. I believe that no matter the circumstance, everyone on this earth has the power within to rise up. I believe in equality. I believe in the kindness of strangers. I believe that tomorrow holds the possibility of being better than today. I believe life is worth living. I believe in me. I believe in you. The Giving Challenge for today is to Believe.

40 responses »

  1. Kindness is much more rewarding than ignorance, indifference or cruelty. Don’t you just wish that everyone would get that? I believe there’s hope yet for the sorry lot that we are!

    • Awww, that makes me want to cry. I’ve wanted to tell this story for awhile but the moment just hasn’t been right. It was such an impactful event for me, that it’s not easy to recreate. Thank you for reading and commenting. Blessings right back atcha.

  2. Beautiful post, Stacie. Thanks for bringing my attention back to what’s important during this crazy time of year. Merry Christmas!!

  3. Holy crap, Stacie. This is incredible. I cannot believe you were stuck in the projects. Alone. At night. IN THE WINTER!! Ah, I understand this like only someone who has lived in Chicago and experienced those winters and driven by projects would. What I also can’t believe is that we lived in Chicago at the same time — I was in Lakeview while in school at the Art Institite ’91-’94. Did you wait on me? Did I wait on you? We’re we at the same clubs or coffee houses?

    But back to your story, written with your charictaristicly amazing detail, description and insight. Brava! Thanks once again for sharing. Loved it.

    • Wow, goosebumps Laura. I lived in Chicago, in Lincoln Park and Lakeview, from 1992-2004. I started in Boystown, then moved to Mildred and Halsted, then North Ave and Halsted, then Kenmore and Sheffield, then finally Melrose and Belmont. I made up a fake resume and waited tables at Vinci on Halsted for about a month in 1992 before I was fired. I didn’t even know how to open a bottle of wine which didn’t really fly in that environment.

      We had to have crossed paths which is the reason for my goosebumps. And here we are. Life is beautifully strange. xoxo

      • Oh, wow! yes, our paths must’ve crossed, whether at the Pride parade, or Halstead Street Fair, or…. ? I don’t remember Vinci, but I worked for a short time at the Canoe Club (can’t remember the street, but in our general area) before I was fired for suspicion of dipping into the cash drawer when we went to server cashiering (I didn’t). That’s a story in itself. But then it was The Hyatt Regency the rest of the time. I soooo look forward to the day when we can exchange stories in person! Life is certainly twisty and strange and I’m glad the path let me to you 🙂 xox

  4. What a wonderful story at a time when no one wants to believe that others (whether they be white, black, yellow, red, or purple) truly want to help each other. My hope is that the generalizations that are given to different races are just not true. My hope is that there will always be someone who just sees a young girl, lost and afraid, and will help her, no matter what she looks like. Have a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year!

    • What a beautiful comment Heather. I feel like your hopes were realized in my specific situation, and like you, I hope that there are thousands more each day that we aren’t aware of that end the same way. Happy Holidays and New Year to you too. Thank you for taking the time to read, comment, and say something so truly insightful.
      xoxo

  5. Good story and great writing! I am glad you got help that night. Did you have another story like that about Chicago? something about getting mugged? I vaguely recall something but it could have been another person’s story. If you wrote a book, I would buy it for sure!

  6. Yeah, I was mugged, tenish years later, right before we left Chicago for Denver. That story has a happy ending too in that I’m here to tell it. =) Thank you for your comments and support, Lisa. As for the book? It’s forever a WIP. =/

  7. Thanks for sharing the story. I figured good would come forth, but not sure how … still, very well done … and I think our posts are in sync (that is this one and my current one). Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  8. What a wonderful story and perfectly timed for Christmas about to begin. It must have been a terrifying ordeal for you but I’m so pleased you came out knowing that there are still good people out there and that good does come to us all at times. You can’t begin to know how much I need to hear that at the moment and how I desperately need to believe and not lose hope too. Merry Christmas to you and thank you for all your posts – they’ve been magical 🙂 x

    • I hope your Christmas was happy, Ken. Sometimes it’s hard to believe, and I think the world sends us little reminders and taps on the shoulder sometimes, just to let us know. Thank you for your kind comment. I hope you’re looking forward to 2015. =)

  9. I believe those we’re connected to beyond are always looking out for us and when we need them most the veil is temporarily lifted so that they can help us. 🙂 This story really got my heart going this morning. Wonderful. 🙂

  10. As the Mom of 20 something year old daughters, this was scary until you revealed the angel. A great powerful piece. Love you, cousin!

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