It was an interesting and changeable autumn day. Somehow when you wake up to pounding rain with seemingly little hope of blue skies, for me anyways, sometimes it's hard to get up and get moving. The news on the radio was reporting little improvement in unemployment rates and went on non-stop about the looming transit strike. Expect that traffic was backed up and at a standstill everywhere. Monday morning gridlock in the city. I got up, committed to take the 40 minute drive to start my week with my Zen stretch class, grateful that I would be able to leave at a time that would hopefully avoid the bulk of the traffic. All in all, I was feeling very thankful that I had the freedom to set my own schedule and that the daily news wouldn't affect me too much.
Looking out the large studio windows I saw the first indication that the weather was surprisingly changing, as I caught a hint of sun peaking out of the grey morning sky. The winds however were picking up and whipping leaves around the downtown streets. I was happy I didn't have to be outside too long today in this unpredictable weather. Then, large cumulus clouds filled the sky and the sun officially decided it would make a full-blown appearance. As I was driving home, invigorated from the morning workout, I couldn't keep my eyes off this exquisite fall sky, feeling that I was witnessing quite a peaceful heavenly landscape.
I was stopped in the left turn lane at a red light at a busy city intersection, and my eyes came back to earth as I caught sight of a youngish woman, standing on the traffic island holding a hand drawn sign. It said, "Broke... Hungry... Please Help... PEACE." It had a big peace sign drawn on the bottom, too. It's hard to tell these days what age people are and if they really are broke and hungry, but something about her spoke to me. For those who know me, the idea of peace, both inner and outer, makes me a bit of a pushover for someone who wishes this to me. Even if it's a stranger with a sign on a traffic island. I admit that my license plate has the word peace in it, as peace has become my ongoing personal quest. I'm always trying to spread the word.
As I sat there a bit intrigued by this woman, I recalled all the stories I'd heard about not-so-down on their luck young people, panhandling and making quite a sizable amount of cash for a few hours by standing at the perfect busy street corner or traffic light. In that instant, I saw her as somewhat of an entrepreneur of necessity and frankly any skepticism or doubt about her intentions or integrity didn't really matter at all. Jobs are becoming scarcer to find and to keep. We have huge movements around the world, protesting the inequity in the world's economy and people are outraged that employment opportunities are not improving. With unemployment rates holding at 9.1 per cent in the U.S., I understand why many are feeling hopeless. Interesting thought, an entrepreneur of necessity.
Even if this person wasn't 'really' broke or hungry, I recognized that I didn't know anyone who would choose to spend their time standing outside in sometimes inclement weather, hoping someone would give them money. As resilient as I am, I know I certainly wouldn't be able to.
With the light about to change, I reached in my purse and pulled out the first bill I touched. I rolled down the window, made eye contact and handed her the money, receiving what seemed to me a very sincere and smiling "Thank you. Thank you very much!" My turn had come to turn left and I returned the smile, then called out, "You are very welcome" as I drove away in my warm car.
Driving home, I thought about how the discrepancy between the haves and have-nots continues to create a huge divide in society. If things continue to get worse, I believe that more and more people will be looking for ways to feed and clothe themselves and their families. Maybe the small amount of money I gave this one person isn't significant in the larger scheme of things, but I remember a lovely quote: "To the world you may just be one person, but to one person, you may be the world."
So, with unemployment rates predicted to rise in the U.S. to 10.4 per cent by May of 2012 up from only 4.9 per cent in January of 2008, I wonder how and when things are going to get better. I'm hopeful that positive changes are coming as people continue to speak up and out for themselves in all the Occupy movements around the world.
There are those who may call me naive for even taking a second look at this person and then for actually giving her money. I don't see it that way. No matter what she chose to do with the money (which I understand may have little to do with food), I was happy to acknowledge someone who was possibly in need. I have no reason to believe she was not broke and hungry, and for me, extending a small act of kindness might have contributed to making her day a little bit brighter. As I previously wrote in my smile power article, we never know how much a smile or a small act can help to change someone else's day.
I realized that I do believe that those of us who aren't broke and hungry can always find a way to help those who might be in need. Call me a sucker or a pushover, but as long as I can find a way to help another, I will. We can all find our own ways to serve. May we continue to envision and work towards creating a world where fewer and fewer people experience being broke and hungry. Until that becomes our reality, please help. Peace.
How are you called to serve others?
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