What sustains you?
Caring for others can be a source of life.
Let me tell you about Maria.
Maria is a white woman in her late 50s who cleans toilets at a major sports arena. She lugs three bulky duffel bags bursting with plastic Tupperware through the security line as she checks in for her minimum-wage job. She wears a scowl on her face. The rest of her body is dressed in whatever she found at the local Society of St. Vincent de Paul thrift store.
This is what most people see when they see Maria—if they see her at all.
My dad is not most people.
After retiring from a career in health care, my dad picked up a few side jobs to keep busy and earn a little extra cash. He spends most weekends working security at the same sports arena as Maria. His job is to check bags to make sure no one sneaks weapons or alcohol onto the grounds. It’s the same routine for 20,000 people: Glance in the purse. Rummage through the backpack. Send the approved people on their way. After giving Maria and her duffel bags the “all clear” a few times, my dad paused once and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, I’m just curious . . . what are these containers for?” Maria’s scowl quickly turned to a smile.
In the months that followed, Maria shared pieces of her story with the security guard who cared. My dad learned that Maria experienced homelessness three years ago. She lived under a highway overpass just a few miles from the arena for years. Now Maria spends her time outside of work caring for a sick friend who can barely move on his own. Life keeps throwing curve balls at Maria—and this strong woman continues to step up to the plate.
During one security check, my dad asked, “Maria, what keeps you going? What sustains you?”
Maria replied, “The goodness of people. It’s like a shade went up on my window. When I was homeless, all I could see was how bad I was inside and that I didn’t deserve a good life. When the shade lifted, I could look outside myself. I saw goodness in people that I never saw before.”
Maria told my dad she does not belong to any particular religion. She said, “I just believe there is a loving God and I’m doing my part to share the good news.”
Hauling duffel bags full of Tupperware is one way she shares God’s good news. After every game Maria fills her containers with leftover chicken fillets, burgers, and other uneaten treats. She brings it all to the homeless shelter where she used to stay.
“The reason I took this cleaning job was so I could have access to all this leftover food,” Maria explained. “Usually arenas just throw it away, but I know people who would really enjoy it.”
My dad is convinced Maria is a present-day prophet. She lives on the edge and points to what really matters—such as feeding the hungry. The two now share a greeting or story when they check in for work. The security guard and the cleaning lady, two people who often get passed by without a glance. Two people who rarely hear, “Thank you,” from those they serve. Two people who see the goodness in themselves and in the people around them.
Not long ago as my dad scanned over the duffel bags of Tupperware for what felt like the hundredth time, Maria flashed a grateful grin at her colleague.
“Bill, do you realize you’re the first one who’s ever asked what these are for?” she said with a smile. “That’s why I told you! No one else ever asked.”
This article also appears in the May 2018 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 83, No. 5, page 10).