A few years ago, I was in England for a book festival. One rainy weekend morning I woke up with nothing on my agenda, so I decided kind of on the spur of the moment to take a train to Oxford.
I wanted to see the town, and the colleges, of course, and the pub made famous by C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien. And something about the fact that it was a gray and drizzling day really appealed to the romantic in me.
So off I went. And I spent the day seeing all the sights I could find. It is really a beautiful, storybook English town, and I loved every moment of it.
But when it got dark I knew I’d better head back to my train and my hotel. I knew my way back to the train but somehow I turned a street too early, and about halfway down the block, I realized my mistake.
So I stopped for a moment to get my bearings, and as I looked around, a movement caught my eye and I looked down. There was a young girl sitting in the doorway of a closed shop. She was somewhere in her early 20s, with dirty blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail. She was painfully thin, with a sweet face. She gave me a timid smile and put out her hand. And it wasn’t until she did, that I realized she was begging.
Now, I’m no stranger to panhandlers. I’ve been approached by them countless times in New York, in Philly, in other states, and in other countries. But for the first time ever, I didn’t just give her money and continue on my way.
This time, I sat down on the pavement beside her. She was, as you’d expect, really surprised and a little bit weirded out. But I introduced myself and she told me her name is Lottie. We sat and talked for more than an hour, and she told me her story, and what life was like living as a young homeless woman in England.
I thought of that night, in that dark Oxford doorway, when I read today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark.
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