Thursday, October 22, 2009


I was sitting in my car pondering what to do next when I saw her. The parking was free after six o'clock, and I was a little early. Should I stay in the car or feed the meter?

She was wearing a coat on a balmy early evening. That should have given me a clue. She made some gesture at me from the passenger side. I buzzed the window down just a little:

"What?" I thought my parking was bad and she was alerting me good-naturedly. Maybe this is not a parking zone? Is she telling me to move?

She waved and said something inaudible. She then bent down to pick something up. I saw an empty soda can in her hand when she straightened up again. Oh God, is she homeless? Is it too late to get out of the car and run? I decided to stay put. What could she possibly do to me?

I buzzed the window up. Please go away, I pleaded silently. I have a class to go. I don't have time to be bothered.

More importantly, I needed my quarters for the meter.

She moved slowly across the front of my car and approached the driver's side. Oh no, what does she want? I felt a little panic.

She started talking and gesturing. I couldn't understand a word of it, but finally i figured out from her gesture that she wanted food. I dug into my purse for some change. I couldn't give her the quarters because, well, I needed them for the meter. I had to give her something because she was blocking my way out.

I found a few dimes and cracked the window a bit to hand them to her. She didn't take them right away - still busy talking in spite of the fact that I didn't show any signs of comprehending any of it. She showed me her wrist while she talked. There was a round bump the size of a ping pong ball near her wrist. I thought to myself, "Please don't let it be contagious."

She finally took the change I was holding (carefully - trying to avoid touching her skin in any way.) But she was not leaving. I came to realize after more gesturing that she wanted more, so I looked back to my purse with a hint of resentment. Where is her family? Have they no shame? How could anyone let their elder, who doesn't speak a word of English, beg on the street? Street in a city with the highest crime rate, I might add.

At last she took the second alms and left, but not before rambling some more of the foreign words to me. Now it was almost time for the class, so I didn't need the quarters after all.

I felt a thorny pinch in my heart every now and then for the next few days. Why didn't I give her more money so at least she could get a hot meal or two? Why did I assume she had something contagious just because her joint was deformed? Why was I afraid of an old woman who was just hungry? I shouldn't have blamed her family either. Maybe she outlived all of them, and she didn't have other means to support herself.

I prepared some small bills when it was time for the next class, but she was nowhere to be found. The redemption I was hoping for did not happen. It must be a punishment designed by God. My sin was forever etched on the triptych.

I have always thought of myself as a somewhat decent person. Not perfect, but still, not bad. I tried to be nice to people. I tried to be compassionate to my friends. I tried to do the right thing most of the time. I volunteered at the children's center and other non profits. I even donated to my friend's cancer walks. I was better than most people out there, you know?

Along came a tiny, frail, and very wrinkled old lady, and she nudged me off my pedestal effortlessly.


  1. Wow that post is really quite heartbreaking. It makes me think of my grandma and how heartbroken I would be if she was ever left like this. I think you reacted the way most of us do though but you are right we should probably all do more.


  2. Hi, Sarah. I really liked this post and understand the sentiment. Been there.

    Maybe a donation to a charity that helps people get off the streets is in order?

    Just a thought.

  3. Sarah, fear can be over come by compassion, in the form of an elderly beggar.

  4. Sarah, it it Hot Dawg Friday, please stop by.

  5. I think everyone can relate to this one. It's good, the sadness we feel for our crimes, it reminds us we are human. I think thats what that was, a reminder.

  6. kate - it still sadden me when i think about it. it could be my family.

    hunter - good idea. i've been thinking about hot meals for the homeless.

    bob - thanks for stopping by. will pop over shortly.

    mike - agree. the realization was brutal though.

  7. Sarah, This is a wonderful post. You are a good egg. Not only did you get a lesson, we all did. I have a story too. I'll post it sometimes. Thank you for reminding us all to be aware and of the power of giving it away.

  8. sandra - thanks for the 'good egg' comment :) so there's still hopes for me huh?

  9. I would be confused too if I were in your situation. This lady must be in some real need. But where I am, there are a lot of beggars who work for somebody just like in the movie, "Slumdog Millionaire."

    I think you've done your part and it is only human to feel that way....

  10. hi peenkfrik - thanks for the comment. i remember the movie. it made me feel so lucky to be where i am. but you're right: there's always the possibility that a beggar is not really a beggar.

  11. Hi Sarah I think you are brave in writing about your feelings of discomfort in this situation. Lots of people just "run away" and don't talk about it. I am confronted every day to this reality and have to make choices accepting that I can't help everybody. I have learnt to live with my limits and not to be judgmental on myself. Whatever small thing any of us can do, become a great star in sky...

    XX Lorenza

  12. very nice sharing.. it really opens eyes... regards.

  13. lorenza - i can just imagine how you have to deal with it everyday. you're correct. we have to accept our limits.

    huzaifa - thanks for stopping by and commenting. will pop over to your site shortly.

  14. Hi, Sarah. We've all been there. Once, I was driving home in heavy rain and I saw an old man, bent over, carrying heavy shopping bags. He was soaked. I worried about stopping and drove on quite a bit. I thought about how dangerous it might be to give him a lift. I thought about how wet he would make the car. I went back, pulled in on the kerb and asked him if I could give him a ride home. He refused so politely and no matter how much I asked him, he wouldn't come. Then, when I was going, he said, 'thank you for talking to me.' The most heartbreaking thing.

  15. tina - how brave of you! the single fact that he was a man was enough to stop me. and how touching his reply was...

  16. dear sarah thank you very much for stoppping at mines... tk care and have a nice time..

  17. Sarah,
    I need your help.
    Bob, has decided to let me do the awards presentation this week, and I have decided to let each past winner pick their own favorite, and I will post their choice. If you choose to select a blogger, let me know your pick, and big hugs will be due of course.
    thank-you so much

  18. Wow...the homeless are part of the cityscape in DC. Keep your alms handy. I know you'll see your friend again.

  19. So if she reached out to you every day, would you feel obliged to give her money daily? Wonder if she brought some "pals" along with her. Would you donate to all of them? Decisions to ponder as we drive thru life. Your act of kindness was a good thing. I volunteer at a homeless food kitchen. Makes you appreciate what you have.

  20. good point. if that's the case then she's a professional beggar and my sympathy will definitely go down a notch. food kitchen is a great idea!

  21. It's not always the easiest to make the "right" decision when it could go both ways.

    Just found your blog and loved it. Great writing!

  22. ley - thanks. your 'dear you' made me laugh. keep writing!

  23. The button is back. I'm not sure where it went. But thank you! :)


  24. If beggars don't make you feel guilty they don't survive - it is their "job". :)

    Here in London beggars abound wherever you go. The advice from the City is to give money to organisations that help people to help themselves, or to give food. Money inevitably goes to drugs or alcohol rather than starving loved ones. I once gave a sandwich to a regular beggar on my route, and he looked at it with such disgust that I vowed to never do it again.

    With so many needy causes clamouring for our attention we have to draw a line somewhere, and beyond that be able to live guilt free.

  25. mulled vine - very interesting point. i normally don't feel 'that' guilty, but somehow this old lady struck a nerve.



Related Posts with Thumbnails