Neighbors and Prostitutes

She knew my name long before I knew hers.  I don’t know where she learned it.  I recognized her, though, limping down the street past my building, almost dragging her right foot with each step.  She always called out to people across the street.  It seemed she knew everyone, so it wasn’t surprising when one day she seemed to know me.

It would be months later before I learned her name – on the night she got into an argument with my neighbor.

That evening Huero came over and pounded on my door.

“Call the police.”  He shouted through the screen.  “Rosa won’t leave.  Call the police.”

“Why’s she gonna call the police?  Why don’t you just pay me what you owe me?”  Seeing her up close I noticed the involuntary twitching and jerking of her body that had been less obvious from a distance.  She kept tugging her skirt down as she talked.

Huero ignored her.  “Call the police.”

“Why can’t you call the police?”  I wasn’t eager to get involved

“Please, call the police.  She’s a prostitute.”

“Why do you think he owes me money?”  She looked at him contemptuously, as if daring him to insult her profession when not long ago he had found use for it.  He seemed less eager for me to make the call after that; and I escaped into my apartment, shutting the door on the uncomfortable situation outside.  It was messy and disturbing.  It had nothing to do with me, and I was tired.

I don’t know how the argument ended.  It was late.  I went to bed.  But in the morning I learned that she’d slept on the ground in front of my apartment.  I saw her lying there before she got up to leave, snoring and twitching, ants crawling on her feet.

I remember this event in my life as a personal failure.

Could there have been a clearer opportunity to act with the compassion and love of Jesus?  Jesus, who showed love and kindness to prostitutes and sinners.  Jesus, who I profess to follow and desire to grow more like.  How far I was from that goal.  I wasn’t simply turning my head and pretending not to see a disheveled man near my car holding a cardboard sign.  This was my neighbor, and a woman who knew my name.  And I did more than just turn my head away.  I shut the door.  How often I have hated myself for this action, and for my inaction.

There is no value in regret.  It isn’t a gift we give to God to make up for our mistakes.  Remorse is necessary, and memory is important.  Mistakes, failures, sins; these should not be ignored.  Our expressions of anguish can be an appropriate response, but mostly as a reminder to do better, not to the exclusion of accepting forgiveness.

Unfortunately, moments from my past like this one flash through my head frequently, reminding me that whatever good I may have done in my life, there so much more that I didn’t do but could have. This ends up being more than a reminder, it’s my personal shame parade that marches through the alleys of my mind.  And there is no forward movement in my life while waiting for the parade to pass.

I don’t have much in the way of resolution to give.  I have not mastered this struggle, either by being a better person, or by dwelling on God’s covering grace.  Probably in a month or two, I will remember this story again with deep useless regret.  I have, however, seen the parade grow smaller and less frequent in recent years, when I finally started asking Jesus fix it for me. All of it. All that I suspect is wrong, and all that I don’t know about. Asking that He would give me eyes to see beyond my shame and regret and show me that there is space for action.  Gradually, as I’m less hindered by these thoughts, I feel myself more open to extending God’s love, grace, and compassion outward.

I saw Rosa a few times after the argument in front of my door.  She would be walking down the street, calling out to passersby, calling out to me once or twice to say hi.  But then she stopped coming around.  Sometimes I wonder how she is, and whether Huero paid her finally, just to be done with the conflict.  I’ll never know the answer to these questions, and probably won’t ever see them again in person.  I can see their faces clearly, though.

While I am learning not to waste time regretting my lack of action, I hope never to forget what happened.