I Went Back

We all see them. More often than not, we pretend we don’t. We try to avoid them, to ignore their pleas. They are, after all, scamming us.

“Any spare change?”

“Got a light/cigarette?”

“I haven’t eaten. Do you have a few dollars?”

“I need to feed my children.”

She used the last one.

I was in a Walmart parking lot and she stopped me as I opened the trunk of my car. The plea was written on a 3×5 card in large handwriting.

I bristled. I was instantly wary, the way most of us are when approached unexpectedly by panhandlers. We assume whatever we give them will go straight up their arms or towards a bottle. We don’t see ourselves in them. No, never that. They are something less. Still, we sometimes rummage through our pockets or purses for a pittance, fork it over, and walk away convinced nothing will change. They will be there tomorrow, making the same pleas. If we see them, we quickly cross the street to avoid them. We don’t want to seem an easy mark.

I had a scant few dollars in my wallet, and change in my car. I didn’t want to pull out my wallet, so I made up a story about having no cash and told her she was welcome to the change in my cup holder. Two quarters, two dimes. I left one other quarter behind for the shopping cart kiosk at ALDI. The two dollar bills I had remained safely in my wallet.

“Thank you sir,” she said softly. She was remarkably polite. I started putting my few groceries in the trunk as she approached a young man one section over in the parking lot. He had no hesitation in taking out his wallet. She didn’t snatch it and run. I saw her lips moving: “Thank you, sir.”

When I looked up after closing the trunk she was gone, probably on her way to work the other side of the parking lot. I pulled out of my parking spot and drove slowly past the store entrance. I spotted her walking into the store, quickly swallowed up by the rush of morning shoppers.

As I drove home, I began to rethink things, starting with her appearance. She was pale, but clean and well groomed. Her worn blue dress was out of style, but immaculate and unwrinkled. Her eyes were extraordinarily calm, her expression thoroughly humble and thankful.

It was at that moment she began to haunt me. It was at that moment that I realized I may have misjudged her. I was halfway home and called my daughter.

“Maybe you should go back,” she said. I felt ashamed that I even had to have that suggested to me.

I turned around and drove back. I got out of the car and opened my wallet to retrieve the two dollar bills, and saw a twenty folded up in the corner under a business card.

My face reddened.

I hurried into the Walmart. I checked the baby food aisle first. If I saw her, she was getting all my cash and I was buying her baby food.

She wasn’t there.

I went through the grocery section, and back through the baby food aisle. I quickly moved through the rest of the store. It had only been fifteen minutes since I’d seen her, but she was in the wind.

She haunted me the rest of the day. She haunts me still. What was her story? Why had I dismissed her with so little effort? What did that say about me? And the young man that dipped into his worn wallet without hesitation and handed her money? What did it say about him? Some would say he was a fool. Some would say he was kind. Some would say both.

All I can say is that I went back. I went back and it was too late. I will see her eyes, her face and her humbleness in every panhandler who approaches me. I will not judge. It doesn’t matter what their story is. I am being judged as are we all in those quick, fleeting moments when we either embrace or reject our humanity.

Be good to each other…

James

James is a bilateral cochlear implant recipient/advocate and a hopeless chicken wing addict. He is also a prostate cancer survivor and warrior. He passionately believes we can all make a positive difference. His shoe size is 10 1/2.

Morning Is Broken

It is very early, and I am at my cluttered table writing this as the sky lightens behind me. The sun is rising. A new day is being ushered in, thanks to the dependable rotation of the rock we live on and the light pouring out of my favorite ball of hydrogen some ninety-three million miles away.

Maybe it is anxiety, maybe it’s the damned medication I’m taking, or maybe I’m just getting old, but in any case I woke up miserable. Morning is broken, and I don’t know why.

Here I sit just me, the dishwasher (which I will load twice this morning because I’m OCD about dirty dishes), and cup after cup of coffee. The pets and the rest of their masters are still asleep and I am in danger of writing a day off before it has barely begun.

Surrender would be easy, but I’m going to work through it. The sunlight behind me, growing stronger with every click of the keyboard, is a reminder that each day has promise, if we chose to pursue it. I will pursue it today. Here is my plan, a checklist if you will, one I hope you will find useful on broken mornings:

  • I will find some small, quick and simple thing to accomplish today. I’ll trim the lawn or perhaps clean the stove and oven. The key is picking a task that has visible results I feel good about when I finish.
  • I will smile at everyone I encounter today, and smile twice as hard for those who don’t smile back. I’ve learned that smiles are like water dripping on a sharp stone. They wear you down, and in almost every case a smile given is eventually returned.
  • I will forgo my smartphone or television for a walk. Walking is harder for me these days, but I’ve never had a bad day that a walk hasn’t gone a long way towards curing.

I could add things to this list, I suppose. I could make it impossibly long, which would in fact guarantee failure. I’ve learned, however, that a three-point plan gets the job done best.

You will have a morning like this. It is inevitable. When it comes, meet it head-on with your own three-point plan. Keep it simple and achievable. Make your bed, smile a lot and hoof it a little.

Morning may be broken on occasion, but the rest of the day …well that’s on us, isn’t it?

Be good to each other…

James

James is a bilateral cochlear implant recipient/advocate and a hopeless chicken wing addict. He is also a prostate cancer survivor and warrior. He passionately believes we can all make a positive difference. His shoe size is 10 1/2.

The Window Seat

I don’t mind commercial flights if I have a window seat. Booking one isn’t usually a problem for small twin-prop puddle-jumpers, but getting one on larger aircraft has been hit-and-miss. Years ago I took a trip to South Carolina to attend a training session. I struck out on three of four legs for the round-trip flight. I had aisle seats on the puddle-jumpers and the jet from Philadelphia to South Carolina. Somehow I landed a window seat on the flight back to Philadelphia, and a very good seat it was, being not over the wing. I would be able to watch the countryside sliding beneath me like a tapestry being slowly pulled by an invisible hand.

The morning after training I boarded my flight and my perfect window seat was waiting. The airliner was filling rapidly, and minutes before takeoff only two aisle seats remained: the one next to me and another forward and across the aisle, where the window seat was held by a man the size and build of a Sumo wrestler.

At the last moment, a flurry of activity at the front of the cabin! A young woman and her son, a boy of perhaps eight or ten years of age, entered the aisle with the flight attendant, who seated the mother next to the man mountain. The attendant took the hand of the boy, his eyes brimming with tears, and headed my way. The mother, now crying as well, looked back from her seat as her child reached my row.

“Have a seat with this nice man and I’ll buckle you in,” the attendant said softly.

A voice rang out: “This won’t do.”

It surprised me, because the voice was mine.

I stood and gave the boy my window seat. “You’ll like it,” I said to him. “It’s like a magic carpet ride, and the whole world is at your feet.”

I asked the attendant to bring the mother back to the aisle seat while I walked forward to take hers. I couldn’t look out the window on the flight. I couldn’t even see the window: my view was the well-tailored suit of my amiable and massive seatmate.

I’ve never forgotten what that day taught me: each of us can make small positive differences that ripple across humanity. For that mother and child on that particular day, I made all the difference in the world. I’ve wondered at times how far across humanity that small ripple will travel. For, you see, it travels still with every word you’ve just read. So, my friend, use every day to make a little ripple of your own. Make a difference.

James is a bilateral cochlear implant recipient/advocate and a hopeless chicken wing addict. He is also a prostate cancer survivor and warrior. He passionately believes we can all make a positive difference. His shoe size is 10 1/2.