Thanks to my son, Elijah, for the beautiful new website! He’s taught me everything I know and then some.
My commitment to giving away 100 hundreds in 2011 is starting to sink in. I am thinking of it as a self-imposed estate tax, and that feels right for now.
I’ve mentioned the book Rambam’s Ladder by Julie Salamon, as well as some of my own thoughts about Rambam’s Ladder of Charity. I love Salamon’s little book, which asks many of the same questions about giving that have been on my mind. What’s all the fuss about giving anonymously? Is it okay for the giver to benefit from the giving? How much to give? Is it ever enough?
Salamon’s book isn’t prescriptive or preachy, and her conclusions ring true to me. I agree with her that generosity and giving are an antidote to a lot of what is wrong in the world today, and that there is something profound about telling a stranger, “Your troubles matter to me.”
We’ve been in Vancouver, BC for the past few days. Yesterday Louise and I celebrated 25 years together! It’s a lifetime and I am unspeakably grateful. It’s lovely to have a change of scenery in which to enjoy some of our favorite activities: reading, walking and eating.
Vancouver also turns out to be a premiere shopping destination; the streets are filled with swarms of people dressed in fur coats and carrying bags and bundles. I’m not kidding about the swarms; there is a crowd of people on every corner waiting for the light to change. The weather has been very crisp and cold. UGGS and other boots are all the rage, which, as a serious shoe aficionado, I find absolutely fascinating. I have to make sure not to walk into a pole while looking at everyone’s feet.
Hidden among the shoppers at many corners you can also spy a person with a sign, or an out-held hat or cup. “Spare change? Can you spare some change?” is the common refrain. Along the way, I seem to have embraced a rule about not giving away C-notes to panhandlers, although I’ve broken that rule at least twice (Carrie, Lauren).
This morning (Monday) I went out for a walk and headed away from the main shopping area toward Chinatown. As I passed Tim Horton’s I saw a beautiful big dog sitting outside. No leash, the dog was gazing longingly through the window. I was curious and opened the door to poke my head in. A woman standing at the cash register was gesturing wordlessly at the dog. “Is your dog friendly?” I asked, leaning in. “Yes, too friendly!” she laughed.
I went back out and talked with the dog until the woman appeared, carrying a coffee and a little brown bag. She was wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt, and smiled at me as she came through the door. She reached into the bag and then she held something out for the dog.
“Does he eat donuts?” I asked. “It’s not a donut,” she corrected. “It’s a whole grain raspberry muffin. He deserves a treat, right? For being so good?” She had a warm, endearing smile and met my gaze with clear green eyes.
The woman and dog turned to walk down the street and I followed along. I asked the dog’s name and she said it was Teddy, then told me, “Everyone loves Teddy. He’s the neighborhood dog.”
“You probably think it’s strange that I’m following you,” I offered. “No way,” she said, with a smile.
We walked down the block to a little plaza, where she perched herself on a low wall. I introduced myself and we started to talk. The woman was startlingly unguarded, and I commented on this. She nodded. “I feel like I have to be open to the world and to people â€“ receptive, you know?”
I told her I understood and thought about Rambam Â and the power of connection. The woman said she believed in being nice to everyone, and said that you never know what effect a kindness can have, especially when it’s unexpected. “We all have a duty to take care of each other, that’s what I believe,” she said.
“I’m Christina, by the way.” She reached out to shake my hand, again fixing me with her steady green eyes. Three Asian women came up to ask her directions and she patiently explained how to find their destination. She lit a cigarette (“do you mind?”) and, shortly thereafter, a rather disheveled man came up and politely asked her for a smoke and a light. “Of course!” she replied. The guy seemed captivated by Christina and shifted from one foot to the other. “I like your… boots, ” he offered, then shyly disappeared.
Another man came up, ostensibly to pet the dog. Then another. Christina didn’t seem surprised by this at all. “You know,” I counseled, “They say they want to meet the dog, but they really want to talk to you. You’re beautiful – you know that, right?”
“No way!” she objected. “I don’t see myself that way.”
“Well, it’s true,” I insisted.
We talked and talked. I told Christina all about my Month of Hundreds (“No way!”) and she told me a little about herself. She shocked me when she said, “Sorry about my English. It’s not my first language.” HUNH? Her English was perfect, and she had a charming Canadian lilt. She said she was from Italy, and had come to Canada six years ago. She’s unemployed, having given up her job to take an extended trip home over the summer. She’s working on being a writer, and has a four-year old son.
It was cold out and I was getting ready to move along. “I’m not quite done with you,” I told Christina. “I want you to have this.” Before I could get the bill out of my pocket, she was protesting. Loudly.
“I’m not going to take it! I’m not taking that!” I held the C-note out and she stared at it, defiantly. “I’m not taking it,” she insisted.
“Just listen to me,” I heard myself say. “If you don’t need it for yourself, that’s fine. But I want you to use this to make your world a tiny bit better.” After a moment she reached for the bill and her eyes teared up. She put her arms out and gave me a big hug.
“I know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I’m going to share it with Scruffy. He’s a homeless guy who hangs out there (pointing down the street), outside my building. He’s not using drugs or anything. He just needs a warm place to sleep. He’s never told any of us his real name, and he wants everyone to call him Scruffy.”
The photos don’t do this beautiful and open-hearted woman justice. She said I made her week (“no one will believe this!”), and I hope that’s true. She reaffirmed for me the magic in connecting with a stranger. Â And I’ll never forget those green eyes.
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Adorable. Her, you, everything about this story.
Thank you, Betsy! Yes, Christina is beyond adorable; utterly charming and lovely. Happy New Year to you! Jill
Jill, I love this story and I love the new website <3. What a sweet gift from Elijah. And I can't believe you and Louise at 25-Bob and I celebrate 25 this summer! Mazal Tov!
Thank you! 25 years is a very long time, no??
I subscribed to this beautiful new website so I won’t miss a thing. I teared up over your description of Christina. And you know you were only a few miles from me while you were in Vancouver? I live 18 miles across the border,and I just LOVE Vancouver myself. I’m glad to know you and maybe one day we will actually meet!
DJan- Thank you for reading and commenting! I love Bellingham as well, although we tend to cross the border these days when we can. 🙂
Portland is pretty nice, as well. Best wishes!! Jill
Wow, I love your writing and your spirit. What a gift you are. People will carry their encounter with you for decades and pass it on to others. I once had someone in a grocery line pay for my groceries and leave. I will never forget that. It changed my brain and gives me joy to do the same.
Thank you so much. I also remember little (and not so little) kindnesses that have been done for me. I love how easy it is to make someone’s day. For me, the $100 is a special way of saying “you matter to me”, but it needn’t cost anything to connect. I love what you say about changing the brain – so true!!! Thanks for reading! Jill
I loved the story about Christina! And congratulations on being together for 25 years what a wonderful gift that is. I wish you and your partner a wonderful New Year!
Ginny- Thank you!! A wonderful New Year to you as well. Jill
This story brought tears of joy to my eyes. Again, I am feeling so grateful for you and for your sharing. Love, Love…..
Thank you, Kate. I feel your sweet presence on my shoulder…
Loved the post Dr.Jill thanks for keeping us all updated on your wonderful experiences. Luv the new website too!!
Thank you!! Wish I could be joining you all on the cruise… xxoo
Hello Jill, I am Christinas mother and i weeped reading that someone sees her the way I do!!!!!!!! she is all you described,thank you for giving the best start to a new year ever………..I LOVE YOU CRI CRI………..
Sylvie- What a joy to hear from you! It was an inspiration to meet Christina. She has such a sweet and open spirit, and I know good things will continue to flow her way. Please tell her I send my love. Jill
This is my cousin and she is more beautiful inside then she is on the outside! This article moved me to tears because she REALLY is the person whom is des cribned in this article. Thank you for sharing her with the world
Thank you for writing, Tania! It was such a pleasure to spend some time with Christina; she is a treasure. Jill
Dear, dear Jill,
Connecting with your new website was a bit tricky! Many of your former posts appear to have come from St. Damien’s Hospital in Haiti..(?) but I was quite determined not to lose my connection with you and your amazing adventures! Post-holiday blues had a grip on me, but reading another GREAT story about generosity, and now yours, snapped me back to what is most important in life: serving others, helping others…COMPASSION!
Many thanks! Pru
Thanks for sticking with me, Pru! Wishing you all the best for this New Year; may it be full of wonderful surprises for you! Jill
I’m sure that each person who ventures to comment here and receives a reply is as grateful for your loving response as I am; it makes me feel that we have REALLY connected, which to me is the best gift that life can give us… REAL CONNECTIONS! My spirit is warmed to feel that our lives have truly touched!
An interesting and admirable exercise. The world can seem (and be) cold and unsympathetic. We cannot be blamed if we sometimes lose faith in our fellow humans. I have always, personally, been blessed in the people I’ve encountered in life and come to know and love. Still, I find it absolutely stunning that of all the people you might encounter in my beautiful, but sometimes socially chilly, home town… you meet Christina. She is without a doubt one of warmest, wisest souls in this world, let alone city. I know this because Christina happens to be a dear friend. She told me about your meeting and project and exclaimed,”I feel as if I’ve won the lottery !”, and she certainly wasn’t referring to the hundred dollars. In the interest of accuracy regarding the inevitable comparisons you must make through the course of this experiment, please understand, Jill, that it was YOU who’ve won the lottery. Christina is one in a million. Jung would find the event… significant.
Glenn- Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I knew within moments of our meeting that Christina was someone very special, and then I watched her magnetism draw person after person into her orbit. Quite amazing to see, although doubtless not surprising to someone who knows her well. Let’s give Teddy a wee bit of credit, too. If he hadn’t been standing guard outside Tim Horton’s, I never would have known she was there. I feel so lucky, indeed!! Warm best wishes- Jill
I absolutely loved your story! It’s very interesting. My creative writing teacher, Miss Dickson is helping us create our own blog and told us to look at yours. I am 11 years old and I love writing.
hi madison how are you!!!! i loved this story too
Thank you, Madison! I can’t wait to see your blog. Jill
I keep writing and erasing over and over as I try to find the right words to describe how thankful I am to have met you.
You gave me the opportunity to tell people about your project, and in return it gave them the strength to believe in kindness.
The kind of kindness that wants nothing in return
The same heart warming kindness that you’re selflessly and unguardedly bringing to us, lucky recipients.
I have been meaning to write you back for quite a while now, but Scruffy had been sick therefore i waited to see him again so i could have some more intel to share with you and all the readers.
Scruffy (Robert) Sais “Oh jeez, I’ve been praying for this who knows how long.. Thank You”.
He is a former pilot, and spent most of his career in Oregon as a matter of fact!
I had the chance to reconnect with him once more and he proudly showed me his brand new socks. He had been praying for socks for quite a long time he said.
Jill, you re affirmed for me that there is goodness in everyone as long as you allow them to share it with you.
So thank you, Jill.
Thank you for crossing paths with me, Thank you for all the goodness you share and most of all Thank You
for allowing me to pay it forward. To this day there hasn’t been a greater feeling.
I wish you and your family the best, and hope to see you sometime in Portland.
Dear Christina- Thank you so much for writing! It is like hearing from a dear old friend. I have thought of you so many times. Our conversation has stayed with me and I have wondered about Scruffy. How amazing that you can be a pilot one year, and proud to have new socks the next. Interesting that his name is Robert, when my story today was about a man named Robert here in Portland.
It was a wonderful surprise to hear from your mother, and your cousin Tania and your friend Glenn!! You leave a deep impression on those lucky enough to know you. I will always remember our short time together and all the people who came up to talk to you.
I hope Teddy is doing well.
Please continue to find goodness in your world and please stay in touch. I am the lucky one.
Much love to you- Jill
Wow, this is a wonderful story and Christina is beautiful inside and out!
I hope Scruffy is feeling better.