My part of the zoning hearings on the 22nd started later than usual because I had a conflict with an early case. I arrived at City Hall a bit later than normal, giving me some time to observe the hearing process as another citizen in the crowd. It only took a minute to identify the person who was out of place. She had filled out a citizens’ speaker card I found later in a pile, but that wasn’t what gave her away. The room was comfortable enough, yet she wore a knit hat and a scarf; she kept on her overcoat, unbuttoned. Understandably – by Phoenix standards, it was a raw morning outside. This likely was her winter uniform.

As each zoning relief case on the agenda was heard, she raised her hand and, when acknowledged by the hearing officer, spoke calmly from her seat without rising and “approaching” to use the speakers’ lectern stand, the City’s policy for public hearings. She had a question or two on each case. Her questions were understandable but irrelevant to land use determinations. She was, by Roberts’ Rules, “out of order.”

Her life, by patrician standards, is mostly out of order.

The hearing officer was generous with his patience and polite, but eventually, gently reminded her that since this was a land use hearing, questions about regulations not in the city’s jurisdiction had to be addressed elsewhere. Later he surrendered the Hearing Officer’s Chair to me. I sifted through the pile of preprinted cards as I began my first hearing, and noticed this speaker’s card, which in neat printing was filled out like this:

Name: Patricia Ann
Date: 65 years of age
Address: Homeless

She has a name. We have a zoning hearing process, and I am grateful for public deliberations and orderly processes in warm indoor spaces. I am reminded these spaces need opening up to Patricia Ann and her fellow travelers, if for no purpose other than offering a few minutes of simple hospitality. And that her voice needs attention. And that after she left the room, on to her next warmer place, the land use process and its participants occasionally should recall all our Patricia Anns. Instead of dismissing her attending as another “slice of life,” we might welcome this messenger, especially but not exclusively in this season. And heed her message.

Thanks be to God, His Son’s parents were out of place, too. And, mercifully, that the innkeeper didn’t toss them from his stable. Jesus, the adult, was mostly out of order. What a blessing! Merry Christmas, Patricia Ann. Thanks for the reminders, and stay warm. And to all, a Good Night!