I was on my way into a Rite Aid when I saw the woman begging on the sidewalk near the door. Honestly I wouldn’t have stopped except there was a backlog to get into the Rite Aid and while I waited the begging woman started talking to me.
Could I get her something to eat? Yeah I can do that. What do you want to eat? She asked if I spoke Spanish and I said yes and she said pollo. I said, okay, ahora vengo, and I went to go get some. She said I’ll come with you and I shrugged. Okay. So together we walked to the grocery store nearby.
What do I know of begging and giving. In the city people ask for money often and I usually do not give. Why do I not give? Either I am too lazy–my wallet is at the bottom of my bag I’m pushing a bike in one hand and the crowd is pushing me onward already. Or, I am embarrassed. Will the person sitting next to me judge me for giving? Will this coffee shop where I’m sitting be annoyed that I am giving to solicitors here, encouraging them? Will they think that I am gullible?
It was a good time for me to walk to the grocery store with this woman who was draped in fabrics, who was much shorter than me, whose hair was either cut extremely short or falling out, who said she had three children at home and was struggling to make rent. It was a good time for me to walk to the store because I didn’t have a job and I didn’t do anything that day except I was gonna go to Rite Aid to get more soap and toilet paper. So I had time to walk to the grocery store with this woman. I had time to try to make conversation with her even though I didn’t know where to even start but I asked about her kids and she guardedly answered. And then she asked me for more money and I said no.
What do I know of begging and giving. Statistics show that the more money a person has the less she is likely to give it away. I know that I have been stingy–from conventional blueberries to I’m-staying-in-tonight to avoiding eye contact on the street and for what?
I felt uncomfortable when we entered the supermarket together. What would the people here think of us? Of me? She took a basket and I followed her around the market. She picked out some chicken and pork. She looked at me questioningly and I eyed the prices and nodded yes. Then she went for a $15 piece of meat and I said no I can’t. Okay, she said. What about flour? No, this is enough. A smaller bag of flour? Okay. Vegetable oil? Okay. Cake mix? No, this was already way more than I thought I was getting in for.
I don’t know about this but I do know. That this small thing that I am doing is an act of care for this woman, but also it is a chance for me to adjust my beliefs. Maybe I don’t need to hold on to this money so tightly. Maybe money is not time. And to give it away is not to unbraid a rope, long toiled over in its making. Maybe money can be magic. Maybe I can somehow use this finite resource to make something infinite.
At the checkout I went through first with a bottle of olive oil that I had grabbed for myself and the woman put her basket on the counter behind me. The cashier assumed that we were not together and so I told her I’ll be paying for everything and she was a bit surprised but gracious.
I helped the woman take her groceries out to the street but when we got to the curb I handed them off to her. She asked me for some money to help pay her rent and I said no. She asked for a blanket. I said no. She thanked me and lovingly blessed me and she excused herself to cross the street where she would catch the bus. On the walk home I checked on my wallet. Yes it was still there. I kept my eye out for her at the Rite Aid, but I haven’t seen her since.