Wow. I knew I had gotten behind in my giving but didn’t realize how much until I did the math just now. I’ve written 86 posts so far this year, and I know at least a couple of them were unrelated to a gift. That means it’s going to be a very busy month of giving if I am going to make my goal of 100 hundreds before the end of the year!
I’m excited and kind of glad it worked out that way. Last October (during which I gave away a hundred every day) was one of my best months ever. I don’t have any major trips or anything planned, which is a good thing. The writing alone takes me hours each time; I don’t know why. It’s just a painfully slow process for me, even when the final result is nothing special. Sometimes the giving becomes an hours-long process, as well. I haven’t gotten any more efficient. Take what happened today, for example.
I hadn’t been to Goodwill for a while and thought I might find a giftee there – as well as some bargains. It turned out to be kind of a mob scene, which always makes my task more challenging. I need a little zone of privacy and it’s hard to approach people in a crowd. I also tend to get overwhelmed, which happened today. Everywhere I looked, there was evidence of struggle: wheelchairs, crutches, tattered clothes, haggard faces, missing teeth, wigs askew, tics, limps, and shuffles. I ran into an acquaintance and we compared notes on the recent holiday.
I got exhausted before trying anything on and felt the opportunity to surprise someone with a gift slipping away. As I was thinking about going down the street for a cup of coffee, I spotted a young couple entering the store. I watched them as they talked for a minute, then split up to comb through separate racks. The young man was moving around a lot and walked right by me. I tried unsuccessfully to catch his eye.
Coffee was just what I needed. I sat for about an hour – sipping, watching people and taking advantage of the free wifi. There were some fascinating characters including a tall man who looked like he stepped out of a flamenco documentary. He was wearing a ruffled shirt, long black coat and one of those flat-brimmed Cordobes hats. His long black hair was pulled back into a pony tail. Quite the striking figure. He settled down at the table next to mine, propping his leather bag up next to his chair. When his cell phone rang, I was expecting to hear Spanish guitar music. Actually, I think it was the theme song from Vampire Rock.
After I was caffeinated I decided to take another spin around Goodwill. From a block away I could see that Carrie was setting up her post outside the store. Until recently, I hadn’t seen her for a number of months and I was wondering what had befallen her. Sadly, nothing good came to mind. It seemed unlikely that she had found a job and a place to live, so I was relieved to see her panhandling again. Sheesh. That’s messed up.
I said hi to Carrie and slipped into the store. It was a lot less crowded than it had been an hour or so earlier. The first person I saw was the young man I had noticed before. He and his friend had their arms full and were standing in line to pay. I felt a strange bond, as if we had parted ways and I was coming back just for them.
When they were finished paying and left the store, I followed. I caught up with them partway down the block. “Excuse me,” I said. “I just have to ask. Were you in there that whole time?” I explained how I had been in the store earlier and had seen them. The woman laughed and said that, yes, she guessed it had been a while. “There’s just so much to look at!”
They were clearly wondering what I was doing following them. They weren’t rude about it or anything, but I could tell they were mildly worried – maybe hoping I would just continue on my way. Meanwhile, my mind was racing. Giving to couples is tricky, since I definitely don’t want to start any fights. But somehow it felt like the right thing for today.
“So, I’m hoping you can help me out,” I ventured. “I’m paying forward a gift and I’d like to give you something.” I asked if they were a couple and they said no, just friends. I plunged ahead. I held out the hundred to the young woman and she stared at it for a second. “What? Really?” she said.
By now we were all standing huddled on the sidewalk. It was a cold but beautifully sunny day. The woman shook her head. “No, I don’t think you should do this,” she said. I explained more about what I was doing, how I was honoring my mother and trying to make the world a little smaller by connecting with strangers.
The young man was watching me intently with his piercing blue eyes. He got it right away and said something very perceptive. It was something like, “It’s interesting how unusual it is for something like this to happen.” His name was Noah and hers Molly.
They went to high school together and are both home from Knox College for the winter break. Noah’s studying English Literature and plans to go on to law school. Molly is still figuring it out. Maybe art. We had a lovely chat. At one point, Noah asked, “Do you do this for a living?” I wish!!
It was pretty interesting. Nothing really went the way I thought it would today. Somehow, though, I know that things turned out the way they were supposed to.
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