September 23, 2012
When Mary Purcell asked me to share a story of one of the women I had journeyed with over the past number of years, I immediately thought of Anne. Hers is an agonizing story of hurts, hunger, homelessness but also one of healing and strength.
Through this writing I share something of my journey with Anne from her brokenness and bondage to freedom and dignity.
“Sister Margie, a woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.”
With these words, Anne, the woman to whom I was speaking, stepped into the cold wintry night to sit on her usual downtown bench to wait for her customers. A lump came to my throat and my soul felt as if it had been pierced. I wasn’t sure if I could drive her downtown because I felt I would be driving her into something that was degrading to her and for her. Anne said she wouldn’t ask me for a drive as she knew it would be difficult for me. She asked me for some money to buy cat food for her two cats and disappeared into the wintry night leaving me with a promise that she would contact me again.
My first contact with Anne was in the early 1980s. She was a student in the high school where I was teaching. She was a bright student but suffered from a number of emotional problems. Her mother was very unstable psychologically and emotionally. Even in high school Anne was taking overdoses and involved in other dysfunctional habits and behaviors.I lost contact with her when she left school until about twenty years later. My interaction with Anne that year was so positive. She shared with me that she was clean of drugs and alcohol; was employed in a restaurant where she was a very successful pastry baker; had lost significant weight; was finished working the streets as a prostitute. Anne was full of energy, life and enthusiasm.
This time I journeyed with Anne for a number of years. Then we lost contact until that famous night in December 2010. On that particular night, Anne and I were both attending an ecumenical prayer service for Christmas and a dinner sponsored by a support group where we were members. She had not been present at a meeting for months. During the dinner Anne came to me and asked if she could see me when the event was finished. As we met on that December night in 2010, I feared she was into prostitution again. I resumed my journey with Anne. She told me that she was using drugs and alcohol and that she back working the streets. She was no longer employed and many times she was hungry. She received $ 116.00 every two weeks for groceries, cable, food, clothing, phone. She said she had stooped so low she was even stealing toilet paper from various establishments. She feared she would be hungry for Christmas. She looked at me and both of us had tears in our eyes as she said to me, “Sister Margie, a woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do!”
From that December night in 2010, I kept contact with Anne and supported her emotionally, psychologically and financially. One cold wintry night over Christmas 2010 she telephoned me at 10 p.m. She asked me to loan her $ 50.00 for her phone bill. Otherwise she said she would have to go downtown prostituting as she needed her telephone so her customers could maintain contact with her. I brought her the money and took her to the bank to deposit it feeling I had spared her another night of hell. The following is a glimpse into part of Anne’s life as she described her journey to me.
“I am the youngest of fourteen children. I grew up in a small rural community in Newfoundland Labrador, Canada. I’ve never had a good relationship with my family and probablynever will. I spent many years of my life in a psychiatric hospital and once in a federal prison. My life became anightmare at a very early age. Abuse was part of my early life. I’m talking about thirty-five years ago. Things were different then. You weren’t allowed to talk so I kept everything a secret. For the next twenty years my life was a very dangerous road. Addiction, suicide attempts, and prostitution - this was my life. In 1997 I went to prison for two and a half years. Things were still bad when I got out because there was no one to turn to including my family. My oldest sister has not spoken to me in a year. My family never cared what I was and you never had friends if you were prostituting.
It was very dangerous and you never what you were facingfrom one job to the next. But all the girls stuck together and did our best to protect each other.
In 2003 I met a nurse who asked me to talk about my life. Finally, those words I wanted to hear. I couldn’t stop now. I started trusting people including a special friend, Sister Margie Taylor. I knew her many years ago. But now it was different. I ran into her at a Christmas party and from there I knew she was a person I could trust. She wanted to help in every way and she is still dear to my heart.
I am proud of myself now. It has been almost twelve years since I’ve taken a drug, been near a hospital for harming myself, abused myself in any way. I’m currently in school trying to get my high school diploma. The earlier years of my schooling were never supportive. I’ve fought long and hard in my life and in February 2012 I obtained a pardon from the government justice system so I no longer have a criminal record. There has been a lot of support in my recovery. The support group, Stella Burry, and a lot of friends gave me courage to be where I am today. I still have a long way to go but with the support of these people and my faith in God , I can overcome it all.
Yes, Sister Margie, I still have my two cats."
There have been many sacred moments as well as heartaches in my encounters with Anne – pieces and fabrics which have become interwoven into the tapestry of her life. I recognize there are many more women out there like Anne - homeless, hungry, hurting with their own passionate stories to tell. Their journey and their stories belong to all of us.
I would like to conclude this good news story of Anne’s life with a poem entitled To Weavers Everywhere by Marcienne Rienstra
To Weavers Everywhere
God sits weeping
The beautiful creation tapestry
She wove with such joy
Is mutilated, torn into shreds,
Reduced to rags,
Its beauty fragmented by force.
God sits weeping;
She is gathering up the shreds
To weave something new.
The rags of hard work
Attempts at advocacy,
Protests against injustices,
All the seemingly little and weak
Words and deeds offered
In hope, in faith, in love.
She is weaving them all
With golden threads of Jubilation
Into a new tapestry,
A creation richer, more beautiful
Than the old one was!
And She invites us
Not only to keep offering her the
Shreds and rags of our suffering
And our work
But even more -
To take our place beside Her
At the Jubilee Loom,
And weave with her
The tapestry of the New Creation.
Margie Taylor RSM is a member of the Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland Labrador Canada. She ministered as a teacher for approximately twenty-five years. When she retired from teaching, she studied to minister as a prison chaplain in a Women’s Correctional Centre in NL where she worked for six years. Margie is presently ministering to women and men who have been incarcerated and require supportive services upon leaving the justice system. She is a member of the MIA Global Action working group Opposing Trafficking
Messages to: Margie Taylor rsm