Last week I stopped at a red light. I was the first car at the light with a long line behind me. To my left stood a young woman. She had a look of desperation on her face, tattered clothes, and a sign that read, "Just need a little help. Thank you."
I was automatically drawn to her. Maybe it a was knowing that at times in my life, I was not too far off from being in her position. Maybe it was the kindness she held in her eyes. Or maybe it was the simplicity in her message. Just need a little help. Who hasn't needed a little help now and then?
I had no cash in my wallet. Instead, I gathered all the change I had in my car. I rolled my window down.
"Hi. What's your name?" I asked.
"Joyce," she responded with wariness in her voice.
"Hi Joyce, I'm Kelley." I put out my arm to shake her hand. She reluctantly shook my hand. "It's nice to meet you. I wish I had more to help you with but this is all I have right now."
She graciously cupped her hands and accepted the coins. She then told me that things were beginning to look up for her and her husband. She started telling me how their house burned down last year and they lost everything. With no insurance and both loosing their jobs they were starting over.
Completely engrossed in conversation I was startled back into reality when a loud horn honked behind me. The light had turned green.
"Guess I have to go now. Will you be here later this week?" I asked.
"Yes, I'm usually at this intersection every night," she answered.
"Then I'll see ya 'round. Bye Joyce." And I drove off.
It rained that night and I stayed up half the night thinking about Joyce and her husband. Where did they sleep? Did they get wet in the rain? Were they cold? Would I see her again?
3 a.m. Still up. I remembered the first time I was ever aware of helping a fellow human being and complete stranger.
I was 8 years old. I had gone to the grocery store with my dad. We were next in line to check out. A boy not much older than me stood before us. He was buying bubblegum baseball cards. He handed the cashier handfuls of change and after she counted it, she coldly announced, "You're 67 cents short."
The boy turned red and began digging in his pockets but came up with nothing. He didn't speak. He was beyond embarrassed and didn't know what to do. Without hesitation, my dad reached in his pocket and handed the cashier a dollar.
The young boy looked up at my dad with big astonished eyes, and in the quietest, tiny voice said, "Thank you, sir."
"You're welcome, son. We all just need a little help every now and then, don't we?" Dad answered back.
The boy nodded then took his cards and left.
As we left the grocery I was in shock. I thought to myself wow we must be so rich! My dad is just giving away money to people he doesn't even know. And he called that kid son, like he was his own child.
What I didn't know was that we were not rich. We were nowhere near rich.
What my dad did was recognize the oneness in us all. We are each other. And if we cannot help out our fellow humans when they need it most what does that say about us?
All week I drove by that intersection hoping to see Joyce and give her more. One week later, once again I was the first in line at the red light and as I neared the light I smiled. There was Joyce. I rolled my window down.
"Hi Joyce," I said with the same excitement I would have had of running into a friend.
"Hi Kelley," she responded. Wow. She remembered my name!
This time I asked her what her plans were. Was she looking for a job? A house? Would she go to temporary emergency shelter?
She responded that her mother-in-law lives in Texas and they are saving for two plane tickets to go there. The mother-in-law owns a few rental houses and has agreed to let them stay in one until they get jobs.
"I have a little something to help you get there," and I gave her a 20-dollar bill.
Joyce beamed a smile and offered up a thank you.
"We all need a little help every now and then, don't we?" We both smiled and nodded in agreement.
Who knows if I'll ever see her again. But I know in that instant she smiled and she knew that things really are going to get better for her. And maybe that's just the boost she needed to get her through to the next day. And seeing her smile and the glimmer of hope in her eyes is what I needed to get me through the problems I had been facing.
The feeling I have for helping Joyce, even in such a tiny manner, is one of overwhelming gratitude -- gratitude for all the people in my life who have helped me when I needed it most. Because without them, and without my dad first showing my how to help others, I would not be in the position I am in now.
Who in your life needs a little help? Who can you offer a smile to? Some encouraging words? A random gift? A little understanding? More patience and less nagging? I challenge you to do one random act of courage and kindness today to help someone and see how it affects both their life and yours.
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