It was a bitterly, cold day. It was the kind of cold where the wicked wind and fierce frostiness cut right into you and was felt in the deepest of your core. I was teetering on anxiety that my car would just stop dead on the road because my gas tank was running so low and inching past the “E” for empty. The timing of the gas station coming into my view was impeccable.
As soon as I killed the engine of my car and got out to fill my car with gas, a woman in a feather-down brown jacket that reached her ankles suddenly appeared before me. Her long, dark hair hung limply down to her waist. Her eyes were wide with desperation and anguish. In a heavy accent that I could not make out in the slightest, she said to me softly and with deep urgency, “Please, help me. I’m sure that you are my angel. My mother and I need money to get back home. She is suffering from kidney failure. Can you give us any money at all? Any at all? Please? God will bless you.”
At first, I was convinced that this had to be some kind of sick or weird joke. How crazy and unfathomably coincidental that this woman was talking about her mother having kidney failure when pretty much my whole life had revolved around my chronic kidney failure? Every feeling and thought in me was suspicion rather than sympathy. Was it the New Yorker in me that was so suspicious? Was it how I was raised to ‘Never Talk to Strangers’ and that my safety came first to not give out the money that I worked so hard for to those that could hurt or harm me? Was it the assumption that perhaps people who begged and pleaded for money were just ‘lazy’?
I had never been in this kind of situation before. It was as though my life was staring at me and challenging me with my response. I always thought death was the worst fear, but I realized that the look of life and how was I was living it was, by far, the absolute worst. My teeth were now chattering from nerves rather than the icy cold wind clawing at me.
I stuttered and muttered incomprehensibly, “Did you try to go into the store in there for some money?”
The woman was probably a couple years younger than me. She wrapped her jacket tighter around her, shifting her dark hair to slightly cover her face. There were half moon crescent shadows under her eyes. She looked physically exhausted from the day, but mentally exhausted from life.
She said, “I tried. They wouldn’t help me.”
My stomach tied up in knots. I felt terribly bad for this woman, but I didn’t know if she was telling the truth. I caught a glimpse of her beat up car and a woman who seemed to be on the passenger side of the car, hugging herself for a morsel of warmth.
One of my gloved hands was on the gas pump. My other gloved hand was in my pocket for warmth and where my money was supposedly safe and sound. I kept my hand in my pocket. Suspicion won out over sympathy.
“I’m sorry,” I said to the woman, “I don’t know what to say. Maybe someone else can help you.”
I turned away from her to fill gas into my car. I had never turned my back from someone so drastically and sharply. The knots in my stomach tightened, and I winced in pain. I’m not sure if the pain was because I still had abdominal pangs from my hysterectomy surgery or because it was the situation at hand. Probably a combination of both. Either way, the sixth sense of sympathy was creeping in and starting to make a home in my gut. Either way, the Jiminy Cricket conscience came into my head and began to speak rapidly, “What are you doing? What if her mother really does have kidney failure and they are stranded without a way to get home? Your whole life has been revolved around your chronic kidney failure and promoting the ‘giving of life’ and ‘donating life.’ How can you turn your back from them and not show and give some compassion and kindness that our world is significantly lacking and in need of? Even if the woman is lying so severely about kidney failure of her mother, she will be the one to live with that on her conscience and the consequences—not you.”
The voice seemed to tug incessantly at me to visually see the situation unfolding before me. I turned around. The woman knocked on the windows of two other cars. Windows were quickly rolled up. Another person slammed the car door in her face. Kindness was disintegrating in front of me. A cocktail concoction of guilt and sympathy were now invading my entire body, making my insides feel hot heat surpass the outside frigid surroundings.
I decided that I would go to the woman and give her money after I finished pumping my gas, but she beat me to the punch when she shuffled her way towards me again.
She was nearly in tears and choked out again, “Please. Any money at all. I’ll take anything. We just need to get back home. Please, help. God will bless you. God will bless you.”
I looked into her despondent and lightless eyes. She met my gaze with defiant desperation. That is when it dawned on me: On the surface, she was asking me to give her paper money, but, in actuality, she was asking me to give her compassion, time, and love for her and her mother. My money that I worked hard for would be quickly spent and used once I gave to her, but for I suddenly had to believe to be a great good for mother and daughter.
I reached into my pocket and gave money. Our hands briefly touched.
The woman's eyes filled with joy and thankfulness. She clamored over and over, “Thank you, thank you, thank you….God will bless you…”
I wanted to say to the woman, “God has already blessed me with so much…”
But, I didn’t have the chance.
Just as quickly as the woman appeared, she had suddenly disappeared. Many may think that I was naïve in believing the best in this woman and somehow seeing a greater good. Many may say that I placed myself in an ‘unsafe’ situation. However, I was humbled that this situation had happened to remind me that the greatest gifts we can give are not bought, but are given from our soul in forms of time, love, compassion, and presence.
I am thankful for each and every single waking day. However, this Thanksgiving, I am even more thankful in ways that can never be fully expressed for the seen reason that I have come out and above yet another health bump as well as the unseen reasons that are personal and profound to only me. When you are that blessed in life with the greatest riches of health, love, and time, there is a realization that you only want to bless and give to others—even unfamiliar strangers who may become your most familiar friends. Everyone who comes into our path has a divine purpose.
My hands were still in my pockets. Although it was still freezing outside, my hands suddenly felt warmer. That is when one of my hands wrapped around the few extra paper dollars in my pocket. Yes, I had a few extra dollras. How lucky I was!
I wrapped my hand around the crinkled dollar bills, stuffing my hands deeper and cozier into my pockets. I still had and have so much more to give forward and further.
Happy Thanksgiving to all! ;-)
With love, hugs, & gratitude,