I almost didn’t notice her as I drove by on the way back from a last-minute shopping run for forgotten items for Christmas dinner with extended family.
She was all alone laying on a sidewalk on Christmas Day. The sight of the stranger broke my heart.
I was only a block or two from a small store that had been a dairy decades before, so I stopped there to find food to bring back to her.
The selection was poor. I ended up getting a banana, personal size carton of milk, and a pre-made meal for children’s school lunches that contained meat, cheese, crackers, juice, and a small candy bar.
It was a meager offering indeed.
I didn’t wish to disturb or frighten the woman, so I parked across the street holding the items so she could see I had food as I walked toward her, stopping about fifteen feet away.
I noticed that her head laid within a couple of feet of several chickens of various colors and breeds that were just on the other side of a metal mesh fence. I’d never noticed the beautiful hens before.
I said, “Excuse me.” She jerked up with arms defensively crossed in front of her face and chest.
I slowly walked toward her holding out the food. A smile lit her face as she eagerly accepted the humble items.
She thanked me, and unbidden, a rush of words came pouring out of her, as so often happens when lonely people are offered a friendly ear.
She said she was laying near the hens because she likes chickens and they made her feel safe. She told of her family having chickens when she was a young girl and sometimes they would peck her when she gathered eggs, but she understood that they were just trying to protect her babies.
She stated in a matter-of-fact way, “People like you are stronger than me, but I’m trying to get stronger”, adding she was on mental health medications and was addicted to crystal meth. She proudly added that she was trying to get off the drugs and hadn’t had any for two days.
I was speechless and didn’t know how to respond, so I nodded an acknowledgement to her successful two days. I believe she could tell by my look that I understood that it wasn’t an easy accomplishment.
I noticed she only had a light jacket, and was using it as a pillow. She had nothing else; no spare clothes, or other possessions that I could see. I said I had an extra jacket in the car and asked if she’d like to have it. She said she would and I got it for her. She immediately put it on.
She talked for awhile more, then we said goodbye. When I was about half-way to my car, I turned around, took some cash out of my wallet, rolled it up and handed it to her, saying, “You may need this.”
As she took it, she looked at me eye-to-eye and solemnly swore, “I won’t do anything bad with it.”
I know that if it is humanly within her power to do so she’ll keep her promise.
For just the price of a humble meal and a little time she gave so much more to me, and her gifts were priceless.
Trust. Gratitude. A solemn promise, beautiful smile, and glimpses of her struggle, story, and glorious spirit. A reminder as to the depth of joy that can come from giving, and the priceless gifts one can receive by doing so.
We wished each other a Merry Christmas. I got in my car and as I began to drive away, said, “Stay safe!”
If only one Christmas wish could come true for me this year, may it be that she does indeed stay safe, and rise above the terrible demons that have tried to keep her down.