It was a gray, wintery day, the clouds angry and spitting sleet. The kids and I were headed to the local Target to pick up a few needed items. As we pulled into the parking lot, I saw her -- a somewhat older woman in jeans and a heavy jacket, gray hair pulled back into a long ponytail. She was sitting on a pavement bulkhead just at the parking lot entrance, holding up a sign.
Husband sick, can't work. Lost our home. Please help if you can.
I winced in empathy, sorry for her situation. Divorced, feeding a zoo and a household on one income, I understood (and still do) very well how most people are just a paycheck away from disaster. Before we'd gone ten feet past her, my daughter asked in a very concerned tone, "Mommy, what's wrong with that lady?"
"I think she's homeless, honey. She's hoping people can give her some money."
We all got out of the car and headed in to the store. My daughter pulled on my hand, and I turned to look at her. Two wet streaks glistened on her cheeks.
"We have to help her, mommy! Its so cold and she doesn't have anyplace to live! That's horrible!"
I glanced across the parking lot to the woman, and I thought of my empty wallet and my tight budget.
"Honey, I don't have anything but some spare change in my wallet right now. When we check out from the store I'll use my card to get a little money back and when we leave you can give it to her, okay?"
"Okay, mommy. Thank you."
By the time we left the store, however, she was gone. At my daughter's insistence we drove around and around the various stores on the boulevard, hoping to find her, but we never did. I realized just that day how deep her compassion and regard for humanity really go. She has the heart of an angel, longing to heal the world and take away its pain.
The other day I was recalling to SG an account my neighbor related to me. An old man came up her driveway and wanted to talk about a horse he was boarding (he'd seen the horses in her pasture and decided she might be able to help him). Suddenly out of nowhere he asked her, "Will you take care of me?"
Obviously taken aback, she said "What?"
"Will you take care of me?" He was 96, he explained, and he lived by himself. He didn't have anyone to care for him and would it be alright if she came over to his house every few days just to make sure he hadn't fallen down or died?
How can you say no to that? She certainly couldn't.
About thirty seconds after I finished telling SG about this, I heard sobs coming from the back seat of the truck.
"Amazon Girl, are you okay?"
"THAT'S SO SAD, MOMMY!" she sobbed. "That man is all alone! I feel so bad for him!" She cried, loudly, for about the next fifteen minutes. She was completely undone. I promised her I would touch base with my neighbor and perhaps we could go visit him as well.
I recall a younger me, a young adult who couldn't pass a dog or cat on the side of the road without stopping to collect them, or couldn't stop crying if she saw one that had been killed by a car. I remember being the person who always gave change to someone begging if I had it to give.
Even though I have grown more cynical in my old age, that younger me is still present. I don't always stop for strays, which causes my daughter to lose her temper with me, but I try to help when I can. I am not always the person I want to be, like most people I have times when I feel selfish about giving away what I have. There are times when I have to be realistic about my capability to help every creature - I've had to say "no" to fostering and my husband is trying to convince me to allow our critter count to drop via attrition.
Her giving nature is something she was born with, but its also something fostered, just as mine was. My parents were always volunteering their time, to the food bank, to the literacy groups, donating blood. My dad was a volunteer ambulance driver and EMT long after his firefighting days were over. In his younger years he rarely hesitated to pick up a hitchhiker, even though it kind of drove my mom nuts.
Just as my parents modeled giving for my brother and me, I hope I do an adequate job of model those values for my own children. If I never pass anything else along to them, I can rest easy knowing that at least one of them is growing up to be a person who will do what she can to help others. I ache a little for the inevitable pain she will suffer when she encounters situations where the help is too little or too late and for the scorn she will likely receive from those who are less compassionate. I know she will learn, as I have, that its worth it, even when it hurts.
"I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending love letters to the world." ~ Mother Teresa