I left the building at 7:30 to run across the street and grab some chai tea and something to eat.
A dishevelled woman looking about 50 years old came in and methodically walked table to table – clearly asking for food or money.
I judiciously tried to avoid her and thought I had succeeded as she headed out the door. Then she spotted me…and came back in.
Her: Can you spare some change?
Me: No. I don’t have any change. I’m sorry. (I lied. I had 2 toonies, 3 loonies and a five dollar bill in my pocket)
Her: I’m living on the street.
Me: (I look at her matted hair, dirty clothes and the cut on her lip) I can sympathize with you but I can’t help you out.
Her: Sure you can, you can help me out with some food. I’m hungry.
Me: I’m sorry. I just have this coffee. (I lied again. I had ordered food to-go and was just waiting for it to be done.)
Her: (long silence, she turned and left the restaurant)
I wrestled with the shame and disgust I had felt in my own actions and words.
But it wasn’t too late to remedy. I thought “maybe I can buy something with this $5 bill.” But I knew that was a cop out and almost as disgustingly dismissive as the original lie. ‘What could I buy?’ wasn’t the lesson.
And then it came to me: I asked for another pita and another bowl. I took it out to share my supper with her.
It took me a while to find her, it was like she had disappeared. I walked with that hot meal-in-a-bag for 3 blocks before I found her and relieved my guilt.
She took it. Smiled – toothless – and walked away with a hot meal.
I sit here at the desk of my well-paying job and eating my food thinking I probably can’t even finish this half portion that I have.
I was an asshole in that moment. She and I both new it.
That’s what I needed today. I needed to be reminded that I have so much. That others have so little.
And that generous and humble are the right and only things to be.