We were waiting in Christmas traffic at the intersection to enter Target, with all the road-raging Scrooges that seem to be out this time of year. Horns were honking and cars were going absolutely nowhere, so I turned on the radio and took a sip of my Chestnut Praline latte.
My mom sighed in solidarity.
“Oh,” she said. “Look over there. Something’s happening.”
Something was definitely happening at the Extended Stay motel. Police cars were parked in tandem slots, lights spinning.
“That doesn’t look good,” I remarked, as yet another green light came and went with us unmoving.
There isn’t much crime in my neck of the woods. Police tend to hyper-respond to every little incident. That being the case, it’s difficult to gauge whether a gathering of that size meant something violent, or something trite, had happened.
And then I saw them.
A tall, muscular man in the center of the flashing chaos. His right arm wrapped around a beautiful, wide-eyed toddler. In the other hand he held a trash bag, stuffed with clothing.
“Oh no,” I murmured.
A former property manager of subsidized housing, I have seen my share of evictions. I’ve watched the sheriff escort families out to the street. The screaming and crying and hours of bartering. Sometimes begging. The end result is always the same: a homeless family. But this one was especially hard to see.
Because this man didn’t cry or scream. He didn’t get angry or barter. He didn’t beg. He just stood there, accepting his fate with the listless glare of emotional separation. And as the Christmas music and flavored lattes and wreath-adorned SUVs passed by, that curly-headed little girl buried her head in Daddy’s chest.
Daddy will make everything okay. Daddy always makes everything okay.
Our green light eventually came, and I peeled my eyes away from the heartbreaking scene. I tried so hard to move on. Christmas shopping, cleaning, and decorating. Making and mailing cards.
But a dark cloud lingered heavy on my heart.
Because I had seen the blank stare of a man who found the end of his rope and lost it. I witnessed the numb conversation with police as this father discussed where to take his daughter for the night. As they planned which God-forsaken shelter floor his family would have to sleep on.
I wondered how cruel it must have felt that while his world imploded, the rest of us were buzzing about like festive little bees. How much more had the indignity stung in this season of cheer?
Part of me wanted to push the picture out of my head. To forget the way that father scooped his child into his arms as the police continued talking. To delete the visual of her little tennis shoes swinging nervously as the events unfolded around her.
It was all too heavy for Christmas time. Too much hurt and sadness for jingle bells and candied coffee.
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But what is Christmas, exactly? A time of presents and laughter and singing? Santas, Will Ferrells and sugar cookies?
I know why that cloud felt so thick on my heart.
In real time I had been reminded of another forgotten family. Of a child crying in a cold winter night. Of a world that had no place for the weary. No warm, inviting rooms for a mother or her babe.
And as I witnessed that eviction and kept on driving, a No Vacancy sign was flashing brightly within me, filling my heart with a heavy shame. I had no room for this family. Not in my home, not in my wallet, not in my heart.
The weight of that truth still fills me with a sore regret.
I called around to find them. Not that I have much to offer by way of money. I’m not even sure what I would do or say if I found them. In the end, it didn’t matter. The thing about homeless people is sometimes they can’t be found.
It’s been almost a week since the eviction occurred. I have prayed for this family every single night. While it’s unlikely I will get the chance to make right my inaction, I hope to make some serious changes in my heart going forward. Sure, I will celebrate Christmas with laughter and warmth and presents. I will partake in another praline latte and perhaps a Will Ferrell flick.
But more than any of that I hope to celebrate Christmas by showing love for humanity. By opening my heart – and yes, my wallet – to those around me in need. I pray that I’m able to recognize such opportunities around me in the future. That neither fear nor pride keep me from action. And above all, I pray that the No Vacancy sign in my heart is permanently unplugged.
Because if I have “no room” for those in need, I am the InnKeeper.
And that is not the side of the story I hoped to be on.