“I had a rather exciting event,” I said to Tim, soon after walking into the kitchen, having returned a bit later than planned. “And it cost me just over $14!” I added a bit later.
“Let me guess,” he said… “You met a homeless person and took them out for a meal?”
“Ah, you know me too well!” I answered. “But you’ll have to wait until I write a blog about it to find out if you are right.”
She was short and hunched over, at the far side of the register, wearing an old coat, multiple clothing items, layered. Unkempt her framed her wrinkled face and empty eyes spoke of hard times. Her crooked fingers fumbled awkwardly with something.
A man stood beside her, younger and more put together, bagging a few grocery items. I wondered at the unlikely pair, as they stood there in close proximity. And then he walked away, leaving her behind. That’s when I realized they were not together, and with him gone, I saw her more clearly. She fumbled with money; several stacks of coins were held together by plastic wrap, others were loose in a plastic bag. In front of her lay her meager purchases; a bit of fresh fruit and not much else.
The girl between us, young–maybe in her early to mid twenties–had purple hair, multiple piercings and gorgeous eyes and smile. A smile she had shared generously when I first appeared behind her. She reminded me of our daughter’s one friend; sweet, yet edgy, and all around a likable girl. She looked at the old lady fumbling with her coins, not appearing the least bit impatient.
The cashier a middle-aged woman with compassionate expression, watched too. She repeated the amount the old woman owed her. It was $14 and change.
The scene unfolded quickly; much more so than writing it out or reading it. And in that moment, when the clerk told her what she owed, I realized the little old woman was trying to scrounge together a few dollars for groceries. Until that moment I thought she was tucking things away, trying to get her money in place.
“Excuse me,” I said to the cashier, “is she trying to pull together enough money to pay for her groceries?” The cashier nodded, “Yes.” The young girl looked at me quizzically. “I would like to pay for that,” I said. It wasn’t some halo moment, and didn’t feel like a big deal, really. It just popped out of my mouth, and the compassion I felt when I said it, was familiar.
I was four again, and mom was in the house with not enough groceries to make a decent meal… then five and the Mexican gypsies appeared, holding out empty bowls, begging for soup. We had so little, still my mother with a bit of fear and fretting offered them each a ladle of her hard work; our meal. Those things stay fresh in the memory forever. And they always come back in moments like this, or when I see a homeless person begging. And I don’t really care at that moment how they got there, and why they are in such a destitute place. I just care that they know someone cares, and I do something if I can.
The cashier looked momentarily shocked. “You’re sure?” she asked.
“Yes please,” I said. “I’d like to do that.”
The old woman shuffled over then, holding out her fistful of money, just as I prepared to insert my card, and with the cashier trying to explain, “She’s paying for you.” The old woman couldn’t speak English and stared in bewilderment, eyes squinting at me. I motioned to her groceries, pointed to myself and said, “I will pay.” She raised her hands in question, as if to ask a wordless ‘why’. And I couldn’t explain, so I put my hand on my heart. She did it again, and I put my arm around her shoulder and said, “Merry Christmas”. It was all I could think to say that she might understand as a gift. Still she squinted at me.
The debit machine acted up and things were taking a bit longer. I looked at the pretty young girl with the purple hair, who was next in line between us and said, in true Canadian style, “I’m sorry.”
She put her hand on her heart then, and said, “Oh no! Please…” Not knowing what to say, but clearly not bothered by the disruption.
The old lady then tried to hand me her money, but I pointed to her and said she should keep it. She still said nothing, but shuffled back the her bags. And I returned to my place in line and started to put my groceries on the conveyor. I heard the clerk ask, “Are you okay? Are you crying?” And I looked up to see tears in the cashier’s eyes, the young girl choking with emotion, saying she was okay, and a little old woman still staring at me with disbelief in her squinted eyes.
She shuffled out the door, tears in her eyes too, and I blew her a kiss and said, “bless you”, because I didn’t know what else to say or do as she waved one gentle, timid farewell. And the emotion hit me deep inside for a moment, remembering that time long ago.
I don’t know who said what, but somehow between the cashier and the young girl, they started talking to me, and it all took me off guard. Finally the cashier asked, “Do you know her” And my answer was, “No. I don’t know her. But I know about poverty.” And they asked if I had been ‘like that’–presuming they meant homeless–and I said, “No. But my parents….”
I didn’t go into any detail beyond that, but knew my parents had experienced such desperate times that they had lived in a barn with missing barn boards when my second oldest sister–first daughter of dad’s second marriage–was born. Times were hard, many times, in childhood.
The young girl looked at me, immediately after paying, placed her hand on my arm and said, “Thank you for making my day!”
It all happened ‘without a thought’, really, and kind of made my day too. There was the subconscious awareness that Jesus has really blessed my life, and if I can bring practical love into one life, now and then, I am honoured. And I expect this woman, like Rick, another homeless ‘friend’ I’ve met several times in Kitchener, will wander through my heart from time to time for many years to come. And I will pray for her just like I pray for Rick, not out of religious duty, but a sense of deep personal gratitude for the goodness of God in my life.
And it strikes me that as individuals who have suffered sexual abuse we often ‘fumble through our bags, and wallets and paraphernalia’, trying to pull together enough resources to survive. We see it in front of us, the nutrition we need to survive and grow strong, but most of the time we haven’t the wherewithal to acquire it on our own. So we pull together what little we have, and pull through another day, just getting by emotionally.
Then, one day, someone sees our struggle and looks beyond the exterior, which can be quite unpleasant and certainly in many layers, and they reach out to meet our need. We awkwardly accept, feeling unworthy but deeply moved by the compassion. And we walk away from those moments, recognizing we have been forever changed.
~ T ~