It was sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas that she became a part of my life experiences, my memory bank, my value system. The Norwegian and I were in a nearby city and were on our way home. To say we were on a tight budget is oversimplifying the obvious. We didn’t have enough to have a budget; we just tried to keep going. We had five dollars and we were going to make one more stop for milk and bread and then go home: That would be it for the week or until something else turned up for us, and although it was the Christmas season, we couldn’t even start to plan for gifts yet. We had kept a medical appointment and then we had gone to a store that was featuring a lot of early shopper specials and I had just wanted to look at the things that might be available if some unexpected windfall came my way. I filled my list with beautiful and impractical things (dream big) and reluctantly left the store—at least the store had been warm. Our house would be a chilly 60 degrees.
As we were approaching the freeway on-ramp, we saw her. She was thin. She wasn’t bundled against the cold. She was holding a hand-lettered sign that said, Homeless -- Please Help. Three words that conveyed so much…there wasn’t even a personal pronoun attached. Not Please Help Me—Just, Please Help.
Sometimes I have turned away from those requests, because I thought the ones making them must have somehow gotten themselves into that position and couldn’t be trusted to use my contribution for anything good. Maybe it was our present circumstances that made me see her differently. We were in warm clothes. We were in a vehicle. We had a home to go to. “I only have that five.” The Norwegian held out his hand to take the bill from me and then gave it to the woman as we slowly drove by. She lifted her head and, with tears in her big brown eyes, mouthed the words, “Thank You. God Bless You.’
All the way home (with no stops) I thought about her. How did she get to that point? Did anyone care? How did she feel? Maybe she had tried one plan after another—only to have them fall apart as time propelled her closer and closer to that intersection. Maybe there was no one to appeal to or maybe her appeals went unnoticed. Maybe she had counted on medical insurance that had found a loophole to exclude her coverage. Maybe she had used credit to bridge a gap of time to another means of income and the other means did not materialize. Maybe she always gave her time and energy away until there was none left for her. Maybe all of those things had happened to her in quick succession. I had a hairball in my stomach as I empathized with her. Would our circumstances ever force me to such a position? Would I be able to do something similar?
I was soon to find out.
The day came that the ends could not be held together and I was in confusion and desperation and my mind focused on her. What if I could do something like that and get enough together to just go on—I wouldn’t tell anyone and I wouldn’t make it a lifestyle but I had to do something. I enlarged my plan…we had two or three family favorite recipes that I had modified to make easier or tastier. I would print those recipes on colorful 3x5 cards and give them to anyone who would help me. With hope and determination in my heart, I went to a mall parking lot—alone—and suddenly my courage left me. The hairball in my stomach moved into my throat and I was nauseous. (Who would want a recipe card that smelled of vomit?) What if people ridiculed me? What if someone attacked me? And oh, mortification, what if someone I knew observed my complete humiliation? My carefully planned speech of entreaty left my head and tears poured down my face. (Now I understood her tears and why there was no sound behind her words.) People rejected my plea; they criticized me; they were rude beyond my expectations. I was cold and so alone. Was this really happening to ME?
Perhaps it is only my most vivid nightmare. And perhaps it will explain the stack of 3x5 cards in the drawer of my computer desk.
Help is a four-letter word when you must be on the receiving side of it. I cannot remember that week without milk and bread or what we substituted in our meals: I do remember her eyes and her blessing on my life.
Let us be grateful for what we have and truly grateful when we have enough and even enough to give. Truly, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Valentine love, GiGi
Posted by The Editor for GiGi