Monday, March 24, 2008

Reach out and touch somebody.

I have witnessed her rummaging through the trash cans behind our office quite regularly. She usually strolls nonchalantly down the alley, casually approaching the trash. She looks around before opening the can, making sure no one is watching her, then she pokes around looking for something of value. A few months ago, I started leaving items I no longer needed on top of the trash can covers for her so she wouldn't have to dig through the smelly, decomposing garbage. Sometimes she takes the items, sometimes not.

Two weeks ago, as I was leaving our office, I noticed her going through our trash cans. I had a bag of clothes in the back of my car which I had been meaning to drop off at a Goodwill bin. I called out to her. "Hey, would you like some clothes?" I startled her, and she picked up her bags and scurried away. "Wait, come back," I hollered, " I have something for you." She stopped.

We approached each other cautiously, sizing each other up as we got closer. She was shorter than me, probably in her late fifties. She has the wrinkles, bad dye job, no teeth on top, no sparkle left in her eyes. Life has not been easy.

I held out the bag of clothes to her, offering them to her as a gift. She held out an old band radio to me. "Here, you take this radio, it works. Look, here is the on/off button." She didn't want to take my clothes as a hand-out, she wanted to trade with me. My respect for her grew.

"I really don't need a radio. I am actually trying to clean out my house," I explained to her, "Why don't you keep the radio and take the clothes?" I suggested.

At this point, my son, Jeff, who had been watching from a distance, joined us. At 23 years old and towering over both of us at 6'4", I could see a mixture of curiosity and compassion in his eyes. He pulled out his wallet and handed the woman a ten dollar bill. "Here, I'd like to give you this," he said gently. The woman jumped backward, insulted, "I don't take handouts."

Quick on his feet, Jeff responded, "I will buy the radio from you for ten bucks." She quickly grabbed the ten and handed Jeff the radio, telling him that it was a good deal. She then went on to tell us that her father had lived in the nursing home around the corner before he had died. She then rambled on a bit about her father and his spirit and how it was shining down on her. She couldn't wait to tell her neighbor that it was her lucky day. I had to smile, albeit a sad smile. Her eyes darted around quickly as she talked, and it was quite clear that her mind was also darting around.

I tried to refocus her and once again offered her the bag of clothes. She told me that she would look through the clothes to see if there was anything she could use. I had to fight the feeling of frustration that was developing. I had to admire the fact that she didn't want to take my hand-me -downs just because they were free. She was picky about what she would wear ~ she has some pride left. She has some qualities which I truly respect.

I pulled a white blouse out of the bag. "Honey, I am not a nurse. I wanted to be a hairdresser for the movie stars but it didn't work out." She shrugged as she told me this. Hmm... getting rid of these clothes was going to be harder than I thought.

I tried to not be defensive as she picked through the bag, making piles of keeps and rejects. I started to use my best sales approach on her. "Look at these cute brown boots. They would look very nice on you." I held them out so she could take a better look.

She pushed them away. "Honey, I have hammer toes. Those boots won't fit me." Hammer toes, hmm.... I rummaged through my bag, determined to find something that she would approve of. I pulled out a pair of sneakers with a wide toe. "These would be great for your hammer toes - look at the width through the top of the shoe," I pleaded.

"Well, I guess so. Okay, I'll take them." She took them because she felt pity for me, I could just feel it. She took a few more items, some for herself and some for her neighbor. She is a good neighbor. She has to be respected for that.

We said our good-byes. She blessed us and told us again how it was her lucky day. She headed on down the street. I re - bagged my reject clothes. Jeff and I put the radio into the back of my car. I sputtered about how I was trying to get rid of junk and now I was bringing more stuff home. His wallet was ten dollars lighter but we were both much richer than we had been ten minutes earlier.

We drove down the street. As we sat at a red light, we noticed our new friend bent over her bag of clothes, obviously searching for something. I was puzzled and curious. Lord, I hope she's not going to strip right here in broad daylight and put on her new outfit. I hope the red light stays red.

She then pulls the sneakers out of the bag. She inspects them closely. What the heck is she doing? All of a sudden, she flings one of my sneakers onto a person's front yard. I am stunned. What is wrong with my sneakers? They would be perfect for her hammer toes! Then she looks around ~ to the right and to the left. She whips the other sneaker into a snowbank. I can't believe it. The light turns green and I slowly start to drive. I look out the window at my sneakers, laying on some stranger's front yard, rejected. My new friend pulls her coat around herself, picks up her belongings and heads home.

We start laughing. I think she took my sneakers because she didn't want to hurt my feelings. She
was concerned about my feelings. So there they sit. I have often wondered how shoes end up in odd places ~ hanging from phone wires or lying atop of snowbanks. Now I know. I also know that each person has a history, a story of their own, which needs to be considered and respected. You never know how someone is going to touch your life unless you allow them the opportunity to touch you.


Anonymous said...

Debbie, I love reading your blog. Thanks for sharing with all of us. Isn't it great that helping someone else leads to greater understanding of yourself. Its a definate Win-Win. I'm proud to know you.

barefoot gypsy girl said...


MarmiteToasty said...

I have been scrolling back on your blob, and I came across this post..... oh my goodness...... it really touched me......

fanks for sharing this story.... we all learn from those little experiences..


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