Updated: May 21
She stood there finishing a sign in the morning sun. I was pulling in for unneeded things from BevMo then headed home. I didn't see the sign but I assumed it said, "homeless, anything helps" or the like. There's usually not much creativity; just earnest messaging on a zero-dollar budget. Great! I'll walk a bag of that stuff over to her after I park.
I looked at the contents of the ZipLoc as I strolled over. Hand sanitizer, socks, chapstick, bandaids, pretzels, and as many other inexpensive comforts as would reasonably fit; the bounds of our creativity limited only by the size of a bag optimized for leftovers. Hope she can use some of this. I don't know how well we "thought homeless" when we put the bags together. Actually, I didn't think at all. I was on a work trip when Jenni put them together with friends from church.
She was middle aged with brown hair; short, thick fingers curled around the sign covered in shaky marker font she dropped to her side as I approached.
"Good morning, I don't know if any of this will help, but I just wanted you to know that I see you."
A fleeting smile graced her face as she stepped towards me.
"Thanks, I appreciate that...but I'm not homeless. I was trying to get some money for gas. I have a job at Taco Bell but we don't get paid until Friday and my fuel light is on. That's my black Honda over there parked in the corner of the lot."
I follow her gesture. It's there; dirty, but otherwise unremarkable.
"Oh I see, I swing by Taco Bell pretty often...big fan. I usually hit the one on Broad."
"Yeah, I'm at the one on the other side of town, we get all the college students."
"Well, just wanted to try and help. Sorry but I don't have any cash on me. You are welcome to the bag though. Maybe you could use some of the stuff? Good luck and hope you have a good day."
"Ok, yeah, I'll take it. Thanks. <extends hand> I'm Christine."
"Oh yeah, sorry, I'm Chris...nice to meet you and good luck again."
"I appreciate it Chris."
"You're welcome Christine."
She put the bag down near her purse and established eye contact with oncoming traffic again.
Wonder if she really needs that or if she's just freeloading? Into BevMo I go...craft beer...check; new non-alcoholic beer to temper my indulgence...check. Wonder if they have a cash back button? $20? OTHER AMOUNT...reluctantly...no, very reluctantly...$15 cash back.
I stashed the booze and headed towards the exit eyeing Christine's corner. Well damn, she's not there anymore. Oh wait, she's way over to the left walking towards her car. The passenger window slides down as I pull along side her. I lean over and extend three neatly folded five-dollar bills.
"Hey Christine! I grabbed a little cash for you. It's not much, but it'll get you a few gallons."
"Oh thank you! Thank you so much!"
Christine glances towards her car briefly then back, away again then back. Her face contorts...eyes blinking rapidly as giant tears roll down her cheeks and she gathers herself for second or two. Her emotion is contagious...my tear ducts kick into gear...eyes welling but not spilling...yet...as I see her visibly moved.
"You don't know how much this means to me. I've been out here for two hours and you were the only one that tried to help. I was going to my car and I didn't know what I was going to do."
"I'm glad it helps a little bit Christine. You hang in there o.k. Things are going to get better."
Through the tears..."I hope so. It's just been really hard. Thank you again."
I rolled the window up, tugged the wheel right and headed for the exit. Shame and more than a little sadness washes over me. Three gallons,...no, not even three gallons. Why didn't I just pick $20?
Her sign said she needed gas money. If I'd asked before I hit the store I could have given more. I can't help everyone, but I can do more than I've been doing. I realize now that Christine needed a hug as much as she needed gas money. She needed to feel like someone cared. Giving people handouts doesn't always make them better off, but giving them back their humanity most certainly does. One costs money. The other costs nothing but kindness and a willingness to listen.
This isn't a story about me helping one person. It's a story about one person helping me realize just how how many I haven't helped and how little it often costs. Last week Jenni and I introduced my oldest son to "The Sixth Sense." It's an amazing Bruce Willis movie. In it a young boy that can see ghosts says to his psychologist, "I see dead people; sometimes they talk to me." Ghosts and the homeless have that in common; they're perceived as scary and you really don't want to see them. You would certainly feel uncomfortable talking to them. But my experience with Christine has helped grow my mindset to,"I see homeless people, sometimes I talk to them." Her honesty and humanity inspired me. I hope it inspires you to see the invisible people in your neighborhood.