I took the bus from work and got off at my usual stop. I decided to walk down to Fred Meyer before heading home. I had a hundred in my pocket and wanted to find it a home. I kept thinking about Charlie. Maybe I would see him rolling along, his thin arms turning the pedals of his custom bike. There was a young woman sitting outside Starbucks, talking on the phone. No Charlie.
I approached a few people, saying hi, but the spark wasn’t there. It was hot. All of a sudden I couldn’t wait to get home and have something cold to drink. Trudging up the hill, I felt rather defeated.
Waiting to cross Broadway, I saw a woman approaching the crosswalk on the other side of the street. She was using a cane and limping slightly. She looked sad, almost broken. It looked like our paths were not going to cross, and then the light changed. I hurried across the street before she got to the intersection.
“Hey, how you doing?” I asked her. She slowed down and glanced at me but quickly looked away. “Oh, so so,” she said. “I guess I’m okay.”
I tried out my newest line. “Well, I wonder if you could help me out with something.” “I’m listening,” she said. She was standing perilously close to the curb and kept her gaze on the cars zooming by. I told her about my mom and how I was paying forward a gift. She looked at me and said she was sorry. Then her eyes filled with tears.
It was a noisy spot, with lots of traffic. I had to lean in to hear when she started to speak. “I just moved to this city to see if I wanted to fight for my life. You stopping me like this now, it’s just – well, I don’t even know.”
Her gaze was averted but I saw a tear trickle down her face. A lifetime of pain seemed to pass across her features. I put my hand on her elbow to ease her a few steps away from the street. Her cane fell over and she almost stumbled. “I’ll get it,” I said, reaching into the gutter. “Here you go.”
I asked what she meant and she told me that she had just come to town from another state, trying to get a fresh start. “But I just kind of gave up, I guess.” She’s had a lot of health problems the last few years: strokes and a heart attack. “I was raised in orphanages and foster care. I don’t know anything about my parents and I didn’t see any of this coming.” Before she got sick she had a good job as a professional.
I hadn’t given her the hundred yet but finally pulled it out of my pocket and held it out. She just stared, then she asked “Why me? I’m sure there are a lot of people more in need and more deserving. Not that I can’t use it.”
Pressing the bill into her hand, I explained how I had been looking for a home for the gift. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Thank you,” she said.
I asked her name and she held out her hand. “It’s Theresa.” She said she wanted me to have her email address and I told her about the blog. She said I could tell her story but preferred not to have a photo taken. “When you grow up in foster care, there’s no pictures. I don’t do pictures,” she said.
The whole encounter left me pretty shaken. As we said goodbye I forced my gaze onto hers. I really didn’t know what to say. I said the only thing I could think of. “Please fight for your life. Please.”
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Wow, Aunt Jill, this one is going to haunt me for awhile. I am amazed by the people you meet. Great job again!
Thank you. Your post put my frustrations in perspective…and made me just, stop.
I was running around shouting expletives at my cell-phone company, feeling all sorry for myself–
(even though I was also throwing stuff in a bag to go on an overnight to the coast w/people I love.)
Your project has become like an intimate, favorite book to me. Each vignette arriving like a surprise gift that moves me, awakens me and aligns my priorities. Sure hope it’s published in it’s entirety at some point! You– are in my smile today. You, Theresa and the beautiful, purple flowers thriving in the stone.
I’ve been following your blog from the beginning and am always moved by your posts, but this one really hit me. Your willingness to truly see “strangers” through the eyes of compassion is so uplifting and inspiring to me. It sounds like your gift of presence was just as important to Theresa as the $100. Hopefully your caring and concern helped ease her suffering a bit … and maybe that’s ultimately why we’re all here.
This one has been sitting in my inbox for awhile, but with the title I wasn’t ready to read it. Until now. Someone or something has brought this juxtaposition of souls together at this moment, and I truly hope Theresa does fight for her life. Illness and such dire life circumstances can make it seem impossible to go on. But then you happened onto her.
Here is a person I would not have known, and your post has brought her into my world. I’m sending her my sincere wish that she find joy to go along with that C-note.
I’ve been feeling sorry for my self because I’ve had so much illness in the past year and every time I think I’m getting better something else happens. But when I hear stories like that I know that I have nothing to feel sorry about there are people that are worse shape than me. I have so much to be thankful for but some times you forget until you hear a story like that. Thank You for reminding me of it.
Ginny- Yes, a lot of people have it tough. But you still deserve credit for all you are dealing with. I wish I could focus on the positive more myself. I often forget to do that. So, thank YOU for reminding me today.
I’m finally getting around to catching up with your blog, starting in reverse chronological order. This one made me tear up. Thank you for what you do.
Hi Douglas! It’s great to hear from you and thanks for reading!
Much more than the money, you yourself were a gift to Theresa on this day. The connection you had with her, however brief, must have felt like a validation to her. I know when I observe people in my local Fred Meyer, it seems as if people are so pre-occupied. A simple smile or eye contact with a nod of acknowledgment is what I have learned from you today.