A young woman shook back and forth, her bags all over the sidewalk, her heart an obvious mess.

We were on the corner of 4th and 14th, the same old sneakers dangling from the telephone wires, just above the pay phones that are rumoured to be turned off at night because of drug deals in the neighbourhood. I was putting my camera back into my bag, feeling unnecessarily uncomfortable in my little sundress. I wanted to just get back to my car, but sometimes love has different plans in mind for us.

It was unusually hot for an early April night in downtown Calgary. The shadow rocking back and forth across from the convenience store Happy Together drew me in quickly, and it took no effort to walk right up to her.

“Hey girl, are you okay?” I ask.

Those words are home to me. I said them without restraint or doubt–it was obvious she was not okay. She took a moment, trying to stop the shakes.

She’s coming off a high. Her denim shirt is opened to her waist, and she isn’t wearing a bra. Her hair is pulled back, but strands keep getting caught between the tears.

Just a foot away from her is a shopping cart with a black backpack in it. A dirty white bag strewn lazily on the concrete is hers too, but she couldn’t be bothered, not now. She rocks back and forth, trying to stop the madness while I’m there.

“No, no. I’m okay,” she starts unconvincingly.

It takes nothing to hold her shoulders.

“Oh no girl, you’re crying. You’re not okay. What’s happened?” I ask.

She lets me hold her, whimpers turn to full-blown tears.

“I’m not supposed to be… here… it’s been two days… my family. They’re picking me up…” she sobs and pulls her hand up to her face as if to steady her cheeks from tensing, “My daughter… They’re supposed to be… I’m not supposed to be.”

She’s very dirty. I’m confident it has been more than two days of being alone, but something haunts her, and I think it’s got everything to do with love of the non-romantic kind.

She’s on the corner of the street where so many women stand, and wait, and wait to be picked up. She’s given money to let men in trucks or cars or taxi cabs do what they’d like, and then she’s dropped off again. On the corner where so many women stand, and wait.

I cannot be anything more than present. And sometimes it hurts, but most of the time it’s just enough.

She drops the spoon she’s been using to get high, and I pick it up to give it back to her. Love gets messy.

Her name is L. She’s sweet, and motherly, and ashamed. Though I’ve just met her, it is plain to see she was made for loving others. But it’s also clear to me she is deserving of being loved too. She says she would like a 7-Up and by the time I’m back outside with her pop she’s calmed down a little.

“It’s not going to get weird, but I’m a woman of faith. Can I just pray for you quick?” It feels kind of shallow to simply pray, but it’s the only thing I know that works.

She says yes, and so I keep my eyes open and on her. Perhaps more than a prayer, I hear God whispering through me reminders to her of her identity. We talked a few minutes longer before I leave, wishing I could bring her somewhere safe.

Some people do better when it is light out, and that is just as well.

I’m alive when I hold women in the shadows. The shadows, which I know without doubt, are simply light reflecting off an entire person caught between love and being left behind.

Sometimes we forget it’s about love of the non-romantic kind. Love that doesn’t require strategy, meetings, or even others to go alongside us. I’ve messed it up so much, getting caught up in how faith performs rather than how love lives which leaves me feeling guilty or inadequate.

Vision is simply knowing God’s love, and then giving it away as often as you breathe. It’s the hope that shadows will be left behind, and love will bring people into the light.

It wasn’t necessary to be dark outside. I didn’t require someone in the thick of being high and alone. But I’m learning, still learning, it’s when I’m with the people caught between being loved and left behind that I feel most alive.

I wanted to go back to my car, but love–like breathing, like being–has different plans for us sometimes.