The first time I ever heard Susan speak, I was sitting in my upstairs apartment, and she uttered the phrase that no one EVER ought to say. It floated up through my window from the sidewalk below where she stood with another woman.
"So, when are you due?"
I winced at the response of the woman standing with her.
"What?....Oh. No. I'm not pregnant. I'm just fat."
I overheard the rest of the conversation as she told the not pregnant woman how she had rescued a tiny puppy and now was being forced by our landlord to get rid of it. Later that evening, I saw her standing outside, so I went to introduce myself to her and the puppy. She proceeded to tell me all about how she had been in a car accident recently and spent the following month in the hospital and had gained 30 pounds because of it. She said she had some clothes that didn't fit her anymore and wondered if I wanted them.
"Sure! I'll take a look."
I gave her my phone number and told her to let us know if she ever needed a ride anywhere.
But before I ever got a chance to look through the clothes or give her a ride, Susan decided to keep the puppy and lose the apartment. I drove home to find her packing an unspeakably huge amount of stuff into a red SUV.
"Are you busy? Can we load your car up with some stuff too?"
For the next couple of hours, we climbed up and down the stairs, stuffing all of her clothes and meds and valuables into garbage bags and throwing them into our cars. She kept giving me things.
"Here, these are really good shoes....Oh! This sweater will be so cute on you....This purse is real leather. Quality."
She used the word "shit" like it was a comma and kept saying "If I have to carry one more thing, I'm going to pass out." I was genuinely afraid she would.
When we got to her new place, she ran around like a newlywed showing me all of the features. Hardwood floors, dimmer lights, two closets, washer and dryer. I can't even tell you how many times she told me I need to come over and have dinner or let her wash my clothes or just hang out. She was clearly desperate for a friend.
At one point she gave me a little wooden sign that hangs on the wall and says, "I believe in angels." She hugged me and said, "I want you to put this in your place and don't ever forget me." I thought she was being a little dramatic for just moving down the road.
A week went by and I thought about going to visit her a couple of times, but always came up with a good excuse not to. One day I came home from work and was met at the door by my neighbor, Katherine. She gave me the news.
Susan had passed away.
A mixture of congestive heart failure and a drug overdose. Immediately, all of my moments with her flashed through my mind. Did she do it on purpose? Was she planning it all along? Is that why she gave me all of that stuff? Did it have something to do with her loneliness? Could I have prevented it? Was it my fault?
I grieved her for awhile, and guilt sat heavy on my chest like a dental X-ray vest. I should-ed on myself over and over again - Should have called her, should have gone to see her, should have, should have, should have.
And, you know what? I knew Susan for a week and a half. I don't know why she's dead. I don't even know her last name. But for me, it was a consideration in grace. Grace for people who are less than desirable to be around. Grace for myself when I'm selfish and not Christ-like.
I don't know what Susan did with her life, where she worked, who she loved. But I know this. Her life touched my life, if only for a short time. And if you are reading this, her life has touched yours.
Susan. Your wooden angel is hanging in my room. And you will not be forgotten.