A young women used to work for me. She was a bit like Katie Couric’s little sister. She was an editor, and she worked hard at what she did. She came from a fine family from the best part of Chicago. She grew up with the best schools and a loving, close knit family. Her name is Amy.
When Amy wasn’t working, she was walking, jogging, hiking. She had found a way to make a life as a single, city woman. She had her job. She was active at her church. She followed her routines, which defined her interactions with people and the world.
There were so many stories of coworkers, riding the bus to work who saw Amy outwalk the bus and get to work before them. People used to watch her energy and be amazed.
But not many people knew her well. I don’t think any people knew her well.
Amy started working at a shelter. She was barely five feet tall. Every Thursday night, this tiny foreigner would ride the bus down to where the taxis wouldn’t go, and then she’d come to work on Friday. Hardly anybody knew. Her parents were concerned, but she was not.
About a year later, she came into my office one afternoon and told me she was leaving. She was going to Bolivia. She would work in an orphanage for a few months so that she could learn the language. Then she would return to live in El Paso to work with homeless people in a border town near there. Amy would be leaving her home, her family, and a lovely lifestyle. She would be going to something she knew hardly anything about.
When she told me she was going, it was like a light was shining on her, through her. I’d known her for two years and I’d never seen her, or anyone, look that way before. She radiated happiness beyond the most beautiful new mother. She was filled with certainty and with a settled joy that passed from her to me. To be frank, it might have been the only time that I thought she wasn't doing something for someone's approval.
I was filled with so much feeling, just looking across my desk at her. A lump came to my throat, though we’d not been close until that moment. The words came spilling out of me. I’m not sure at all of what I said except for one thing I kept repeating for days after. She heard it until she left.
“You have to take a journal. Promise me you’ll write about it. Someone will need to know about it. It’s important. Promise me.” That’s what I said.
Last I heard she’s doing exactly that.
—me strauss Letting me be