In the streets of Santa Monica, Mary Ann O’Connor bows to the dignity of all created in the image of God by bending down and washing the feet of her sisters and brothers living on the street. When I asked Mary Ann to write about her ministry, she chose to tell this story of Tyrone.
Caring for feet burdened with life on L.A.’s skid row is a privilege. When life spirals into what seems a dead end ~ landing in the darkest part of a city that glitters, the toll is starkly evident in one’s feet. Feet that are cracked, calloused, bent in unnatural ways … feet that press the concrete with nowhere to rest and nowhere to go, are placed in my lap with great trust and humility ~ and “offered” for some measure of healing. This is a sacred experience for me ~ and never so much so as when I cared for Tyrone’s feet, while he taught me something of love.
Tyrone is now in his mid-60’s. He lives with little means, but is no longer “on the street.” He has a room at the west end of skid row, and engages daily with the people of the street he knows and lived with for over 22 years. Those years of darkness were preceded by job loss in the steel industry in Pennsylvania. A marriage that included three children did little to keep him from descent into alcohol and drugs as a way to palliate his despondency. He “worked” his way to Los Angeles during this descent, and as he described to me “lived in the L.A. riverbed, in the worst possible way … with rats crawling over me.”
While in that condition, Tyrone’s children were growing up on the other side of the country, without a father they could barely remember. Ten years ago his youngest daughter decided to fly to Los Angeles and look for her father … offering money to those on the street who would find Tyrone and take her to him. When she found him, she told him who she was and embraced him. He cringed, and told her he was “dirty” … not to come near him.
The love of Tyrone’s daughter changed him. Tyrone says, “You know Mary Ann, most of these people out here don’t know they are loved, and without that they have nothing emotionally to pull them up.”
Dorothy Day often quoted Dostoevsky from Brothers Karamazov “love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” Tyrone would say that the courageous, though “harsh and dreadful” act of a daughter for her father compelled him to choose love for himself.
As I finish caring for Tyrone’s feet and hand him a new pair of socks, he holds my attention with an angelic grin and eyes that dance with peaceful assurance … and affirms as Dorothy would, that LOVE is the only solution ~
(To read about Tyrone Taylor’s reunion with his family profiled in the NY Times 10 years ago, go to: Housing Agency and Family Lift Man From Life in the Street
Mary Ann O’Connor’s lifelong call to healing through contemplation and action has taken her from tending to the “poor and socially marginalised” in the LA neighbourhood of Boyle Heights as a registered nurse to serving communities in Guatemala, Calcutta, Kenya and China. Along the way, she was also an Air Force nurse during the Vietnam war, cared for lepers in a remote community on the Amazon, worked with the young, troubled youth and the aged in Appalachia, brought music and prayerful reflection to groups of women in prison, in San Diego, and lived with homeless women and children as lead volunteer in a Catholic Worker house in northern California. Mary Ann has also been deeply involved in improving patient care and health services through hospital leadership, consulting and teaching roles in major hospitals throughout California. This past spring, Mary Ann completed the Living School (a 2-year program sponsored by Richard Rohr, OFM and contemporary mystics Jim Finley and Cynthia Bourgeault). This Christmas, she took her vows as a novice oblate at St. Andrew’s Abbey at Valyermo, CA.