Today was a rough day for me. There are several insignificant reasons as to why this is, but a few hours ago these reasons were consuming me and generally making my life miserable.
I was driving back from my afternoon class when I decided to run by the Safeway by my house for food. I was on the phone with my boyfriend, and all the way there I ranted to him, complaining about everything in my life: my newly diagnosed medical condition, my schoolwork, my job, my living conditions, everything. Even when I finally hung up when I pulled into the Safeway parking lot I was still mumbling to myself and majorly pissed off.
I parked and, still grumbling, started rummaging around the front seat, putting my phone back in my purse and making sure I had my debit card with me. And then, there in the parking lot, before I even opened my door, a lady tentatively approached my car.
I was cautious at first. I’d heard horror stories of homeless men and women who came up to cars as though to innocently ask for money only to pull a gun on the driver and steal their car, and I now live in a not-so-safe part of town. This lady, however, stopped short several feet away, as though she sensed my concern. So I rolled down the window a few inches, my hand on my car’s shift in case I had to gun the engine quickly. “Hello,” I said, and the woman came a little closer.
“Sweetheart,” she said. Her eyes were full of tears. There was dirt on her face and she looked like she’d been wearing the same clothes for days. “I will understand completely if you can’t help, no one else has… I had a seizure about a week ago and I was in the hospital until recently. I’m stranded here and I need to get home.”
She said other things, too, but she had an Arizona drivers’ license in her hand as though desperate to prove her request was valid, and at that moment I concentrated on it instead of her words. In her picture she was blonder, tanner, and happier. She had a beautiful smile. I looked from it to the woman that stood before me. The difference between the two was overwhelming.
“I’m four dollars short of getting a bus pass,” she was finishing, “so if you… if you could help at all… I would be so grateful.”
Her eyes were so desperate it made my throat choke up. Wordlessly I reached for my wallet and gave her all the cash I had – it wasn’t much. “Get yourself home,” I was able to say, and she nearly dissolved into tears, thanking me again and again. She wiped her cheeks and quickly turned, walking to a bus station about a hundred yards away.
I sat in my car for a second or two, watching her go, then promptly burst into tears.
I had no right – no right in the world – to complain about anything when there are people like this woman in the situations they are in. This poor lady probably had gone through all sorts of hell to resort to asking strangers for money, and I had the nerve to complain about school and IBS.
And there are others, millions, out there who have it worse than I do, worse than that lady does. A billion people live in slums and don’t have access to clean water. Millions of men and women suffer abuse on a daily basis. Millions of children suffer from malnutrition, work fourteen-hour days in factories, as sex slaves, as soldiers. Millions of Americans, if you want to bring this home, are living in poverty, too. Who was I to complain about my life?
This lady, no matter what her full story was, no matter where she came from, taught me so much today. She strengthened my resolve to be a humanitarian, someone who strives to end the sufferings of people everywhere so that I never have to see that look of desperation on anyone ever again. I wish I could find that lady again and thank her. I wish I could make sure she got home safely.
Get yourself home, I had told her. I dropped my purse back on the passenger’s seat, put my car in gear, and got myself home, too.