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The Bag Lady

Freda Isaksen

This one looked different. As this bag lady passed by me I looked into her eyes. Did I imagine what I thought I saw? Maybe I was looking for an answer to why she should be shuffling along, pushing a cart with her worldly possessions in it. She looked shabby, ill-shod, submissive, lonely, yes all of this but something else, something elusive. Her eyes haunted me. I can’t explain what I saw, or imagined I saw, but my thoughts stayed in my mind for hours after my brief encounter with her and I wanted to find an answer to her condition. So maybe my mind did run wild, but I wanted an explanation. I would not get it from her, she had passed by me, so let me pry into my own imagination for that look of desperation in her sad eyes.

Maybe, just maybe, there was a lovely grand lady. Her life had been happy then. She had a loving husband, a beautiful home and resources enough for a good life. But it is a sad fact that in some countries in this world there comes a time when its citizens must conform to the commands of a dictator. Not everyone wishes to obey the forced brainwashing of an unwelcome government, so what is the alternative? The answer is to submit to involuntary involvement or work secretly to overthrow the evil.

Let me suppose that that lady’s husband disappeared and his fate was unknown. He did not return and the lady, no longer proud and successful, knew that in order to save herself and her family she must flee from her own native country.

For all the world’s afflicted there is a safe haven in the United States of America, the hope for everyone in need. Now I ask you to use your imagination. Imagine leaving your own beloved country to arrive penniless and alone in a new land where a foreign language is spoken and a newcomer needs a skill to survive or be doomed for lack of ability to sustain oneself.

Maybe, only maybe, my bag lady has suffered such a tragic experience in her life. Maybe that is the cause of her sad eyes. Maybe, but if not there is some terrible reason that makes her walk in the streets, homeless and alone.

So perhaps if we notice and show compassion and share our good fortune we can help erase the shabbiness, the submission and the loneliness of my bag lady and other unfortunate people.

Copyright Freda Isaksen 1986–2006. Permission to reuse for non-commercial purposes is granted, provided that the text is unaltered and the original source is acknowledged. For more information, contact isaksen at

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