Sunday, October 18, 2009

A little story...

This story is not about Michelle and I (Seth). It is not meant to be a self-congratulatory anecdote. It is meant to illustrate how easy it is to not help someone in need. How easy it is to ignore those around us.

Last night, Michelle and I ran up to Safeway to get some items for dinner. We were both hungry and tired from the day and we were being pretty grumpy. The store was very busy and noisy, which didn't help our mood at all. After waiting in line for what seemed like 20 minutes, we finally checked out and left through the big double doors.

As we exited the building, our arms were overloaded with bags of groceries and 3 cases of soda. We hadn't grabbed a cart when we went in, so we just decided to lug the groceries out to the car. On our way out, we were approached by 2 disheveled looking women. The younger (teenager) of the two women asked us if we had a quarter. Michelle and I both said "no, sorry. We don't have any change". We then proceeded to the car.

As we approached the car, Michelle asked me if I heard what the young woman said after we walked away. I said no, I hadn't. Apparently, when we said "no" and walked away, the young girl had said "Oh no, mom. What do we do now"? We both felt a large pang of guilt. At the car, Michelle dug through her purse to get some change. We turned around in time to see 2 men, giving them some change. We looked at each other, wondering what to do next, and slowly climbed into the car. As we drove towards home, Michelle started to cry. I asked her what was wrong, and she stated that we were very callous to just say no and walk away from the women. After talking about it for another minute or so, we turned the car around and headed back to see if we could help in any way.

We pulled up to the store again and found the women at a telephone booth, trying to place a call. We slowly walked up to them and said "excuse me". They turned around, we noticed that they weren't disheveled at all. In fact, it was just an awkward teenager and her mom. They looked completely "normal". In our grumpy mood and our haste to get home, we had seen something that wasn't really there at all. We saw what we expected to see from a couple of people begging money outside a store. I believe it was Henry David Thoreau who said, "We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake..." No words have ever been more true.

As we approached, they turned to greet us. Michelle held out a handful of change to the mom. She graciously took the gift and said, very genuinely, "thank you"! We then asked her if there was anything that we could do to help them. She said "we were just evicted a couple of days ago, and we are trying to call someone who can wire us some money". Michelle and I both started crying. We told her how sorry we were for walking by. How sorry we were that we didn't stop and offer help before. We gave them our phone number and told then to call for any reason. We told her that we had some extra food they could have, a computer and phone that they could use, or just a place to rest if they needed it. We told them again how very sorry we were and how sorry we were that they were in such an awful situation.

As we drove back home, still crying, Michelle reminded me that we had an extra Rose City Resource Guide ( at home. It's a great little booklet of community and city resources for those in need. They work in conjunction with As soon as we got home, I rushed in and grabbed one of the booklets. We then went back to the store and gave them the guide. Once again, they thanked us and gave us very warm and bright smiles.

This young family will probably never call. We will probably never see them again. Hopefully, they got some money together and are on their way to a safe place. The point is not that we helped them, it's that they helped us. This young mother and daughter have changed our lives. It opened our eyes. Eyes that had begun to close without either of us noticing. As Michelle so eloquently stated "Everyone (meaning us) needs a good kick in the teeth sometimes". I couldn't agree more.

As we returned home, we cried in silence. We were thinking about how cold and callous we were during our first encounter with these lost souls. About how we were not practicing what we preach. We tell everyone we know to stop and help those in need. We tell people to stop making excuses and to just lend a hand. And yet here we were, willing to walk right by someone that had asked us for a measly quarter.

Asked for a little help.

Asked for a little hope.

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Emily said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this story. Tough times can bring out the best and worst in people. It is so easy to feel run down and cranky a lot of the time. I find myself getting frustrated when people ask for change, and it's often easy to grumble and move on. Thank you for reminding me of the tiny bit of courage it takes to look another human being in the eye and trying to help for once.

Sequoia Grove said...

Thank you for your beautiful story! It brought tears to my eyes. It's an important reminder for all of us. I am going to make more of an effort to lend a hand after reading your story.