In January 2012, I wrote the following blog post sharing an encounter I had with an older woman who requested money from me. Since then, I have ran into a woman who I believe is the same individual; each time she pleads to me with the same or similar story. Perhaps its a different woman as multiple years passed between each encounter. When I asked her if she remember me, she called me a liar.
My giving stragety has since changed. My focus is on vetted organizations, one that supports my local community and one that assists in international relief work. I try to keep keep gift cards to places that don’t sell alcohol on hand if asked. I always offer a smile and took them in the eye even if I don’t have anything to offer. I try to remember to show them human kindness and believe even a smile can be charity.
She knew exactly how to get me with her story. She got me good!
Yesterday, I had an eye-opening experience. It didn’t seem right to delve into in yesterday’s post, but I would like to capture the memory today. As I was leaving Changing Hand bookstore with my new purchases, I called the BFF who I was supposed to be meeting later to catch up. Upon reaching her, we started our normal banter about our awesome lives. In normal personal fashion, I climbed into my car while I continued to chat and started the car engine. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a cleanly dressed, older African-American lady waving me down. My brain immediately registered that fact she was going to ask me for something. Spotting a white cup in her hand, I immediately opened the coin drawer in my car and gathered what coins I could find. All the while, I remained talking to the BFF about what movie I wanted to see…”Nothing depressing! Give me something upbeat and funnny!” I demanded to my friend. Resting my cell phone on my shoulder, holding a handful of coin in my right hand, I pressed the button to scroll down my window just enough to stick out my hand. “The Descendants would be a no! Lets watch something without the words “tragedy” in the description, please!”, I retorted at my friends suggestion. I don’t know if I even looked in the direction of the lady when my hand was dangling out the window. I finally turned to give her my full attention when I heard her say, “Ma’am, I don’t want your money.” Realizing that this might require me to listen, I told the BFF to hold on and turned to the lady. She then repeated, “I don’t want your money. What I need is diapers.”
Instantaneously a different part of me began listening. As I mother with a toddler still in diapers, I knew there was more to her story. I am not very emotional or sympathetic to most tugs on the heart strings. This is not something I am proud of or that I think is a positive trait. However, as a former substance abuse counselor, I have heard every story in the book and then some. “So what you are tell me is that you need money for gas, but you are driving around the parking lot asking me for money?” “So, you just asked me for money, but all of a sudden you are not hungry for subway I just offered to buy you.”
But something about her plea was genuine. She told me briefly about her two grandchildren that were badly in need of diapers and if I could go to the grocery store across the street and get some, she would wait for me in the parking lot. I found myself saying “Sure!” and asked her to tell me what sizes. She listed that she needed two different sizes, one pull-ups and other other regular diapers. It dawned on me that it would probably be easier to walk to the grocery store with her and have her pick out the items. So together we started walking.
She then shared her story. Her mother just passed away. She lived two hours away with her grandchildren and had just come to bury her mother. She didn’t get paid until Friday and had been struggling this last week to get back to her home and back to work. She had be trying to conserve diapers and now her babies had developed rashes from the irritation. She repeated several times, “I am 55 years old. I have never sold a day in my life.” She told me she hadn’t ate since the day before and was okay with that as long as her grandchildren were comfortable. She said she would mail me a check for double the amount I paid on Friday. She said she’d western union it or anything else and I didn’t need to give her any personal information. I told her that it was okay as she broke down sobbing. “Its been a hard week”, she said after apologizing for her tears. I shared that I had children and that she had me at “diapers”. She halted in her tracks and exclaimed, “I can’t take money from you. You have children!” and almost walked away. I reassured her that my children have everything they need and I wanted to help make sure her grandchildren would for the next few days. She was overjoyed and asked my name and if she could hug me. After giving her my name, I said “of course” she could (even though hugs from people I don’t know usually makes my skin crawl).
She asked if I worked and I told her I did. “I am sorry I am keeping you from work!” she said suddenly realizing she might have caught me on the way to work! I told her that it was okay. I was in fact off of work and the husband had the children. “Is your husband going to be mad that you spent this money?” she asked quietly. I reassured her that he would have done the same thing. She continued to share more information about herself. She mentioned where she lived and where she was originally from. In a bizarre twist, it turned out to be the same town my husband is from! We swapped references to different fixtures in the town as she picked up two packages of diapers. As we walked out of the store, she said the only thing she could offer me was to pray as she was a church-going, God-fearing lady. I told her that would be nice. She then asked if she could pray for me right then and there. Imagining the awkward scene that would create, I told her that she didn’t have to. Immediately she bowed her head and began, “Dear Heavenly Father…” She offered words of gratitude to the blessing in her life and asked for support for her tribulations. She asked for God to watch over me and my famliy and provide anything we could ever imagine. She ended her prayer and said she would never forget my kindness. She asked once again if she could repay me on Friday and I told her to “pay it forward” in any way she could in the future. She gave me one last hug, grabbed her bags and walked towards her car that had definitely seen better days.
I returned to my car thinking about how a few minutes before I was celebrating the fact that I had “made” $63 worth of store credit, when this woman was struggle to figure out how she was going to get out of the difficult turn of events life had handed her. I thought about how I never have had to worry about having diapers for my children or food on the table. I started thinking about my uncountable blessings in life. Tears began flowing down my cheeks as I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my blessings and saddened by the struggles this lady and her family will probably continue to have to endure. As I drove away, I realized in all that she shared about her life, children and struggle, I never once asked her the simple question of what her name was. From barely looking at her as initially handed her some change from a semi-raised window to not even getting her name, it dawned on me how detached from what might be going on around me. While this may not fall under living minimally, I realize I need to be more mindful.