Boca Raton, FL, August 23, 2010
I have a jogging route that takes me through the back of a shopping mall where deliveries are made, onto a busy highway, and through what used to be a Cancer Center, but is now an empty building since the Cancer Center moved to Miami.
My routine is to stop and stretch at benches in front of the Center, as this usually is the end of my jog. The past few weeks I have come upon homeless people sitting on the benches. First it was a man. We exchanged pleasantries. He grew up in New Hampshire and recognized my New England accent.
Today I came upon a man and a woman sitting on the ground because the benches had been removed. The day the benches disappeared I was puzzled, but then realized the owners of the building must be trying to discourage the homeless from making this walkway into a shelter.
At first I was annoyed at these wanderers, thinking to myself that because of them my benches were gone, and I would now have to find another place to stretch. As I jogged by these two souls, the woman spoke up and asked me where I lived. I pointed in the direction of the apartments. She continued to inquire if I had anything for her to drink as she had just been released from the hospital. The man had bought her a bottle of Mountain Dew, and she was eating a package of peanut butter crackers while he drank out of a gallon of gin and smoked a cigarette. I offered advice, suggesting she go to the grocery store nearby only to be told by the woman, “I have no money.”
Then I volunteered that the EMS truck was in the delivery area of the mall every day around this time as the men were getting their lunch. Perhaps they or maybe a local church could help. I said I was sorry, and continued on my way only to reach my apartment not being able to stop thinking about this woman. My own life has been full of personal tragedies, but here was another human being far worse off than I.
I took a brown paper bag and put in a peach, a banana, cheese, some crackers, and poured juice into a container. I put a napkin in the bag because I had the need to let this woman know that she was more than just homeless. I went back to where I left her, but she was not there. Her blanket was still lying on the ground where she had sat surrounded by some personal belongings. I called and called but no one answered.
I could not shake the image of this woman, and later in the afternoon I went back to see if I could find her. There she was, sitting on her blanket talking with the man from New Hampshire who I met the week before. He greeted me like I was his long lost friend. He smiled and beamed as he spoke, “Here is my friend from Massachusetts!” I handed the woman the bag and told her I came back earlier, but she was not there. She thanked me, and I told the both of them to take care of themselves. I told her to keep out of harm’s way. As I walked away I watched her out of the corner of my eye as she opened the bag.
In Judaism this is called a Mizpah but this was more than that for me. This woman was a gift. She reminded me that there is always someone that is less fortunate, that no matter how difficult life may be we cannot stand idly by without lending a helping hand, that we all need to be reminded it takes so little effort to make a difference in the life of another human being. We are caught up in a world that seems to be spinning out of control on many levels. It is easy to say, “I’m just too busy” when meeting a stranger who does not fit into our world, and to think they are not worth a minute of our time. Today reminded me it may only take a word of kindness to a stranger, or it may be a peach in a brown paper bag that can make a difference.
Editor’s note: While she would never say so herself, and without divulging too much personal information, the gesture of the peach, banana, cheese, crackers and juice are something that would have bitten significantly into the author’s weekly allowances for her own food budget.
Disclaimer: Yes, the author is also my mother.