An unexpected encounter with the less fortunate
|On my way to the train station going to San Francisco, I decided to stop at the theater to buy a ticket for tonight's feature. The aroma of popcorn lured me in, so I bought a bag to snack on while on the train. I tucked it into my bag.|
The train was full of people, so I decided to wait to enjoy my treat. Maybe I'd have it after my dentist visit. I entered the third car, and settled onto the window seat.
With a jerk, the train was on its way, so I looked out the window, and watched the scenery go by--first, streets, then hills sprinkled with trees and plants,. And then the outskirts of a city.
As we drew a little bit closer to the big city of San Francisco, I noticed side streets were lined with tents. Further down were cardboard boxes made into makeshift homes. Debris littered the area by them. There was also a caravan of broken down motorhomes on the frontage road. Some were missing wheels. I had seen it all before, yet hoped things might have changed.
I thought about the homeless problem in San Francisco. Some people sat or laid on the sidewalk, and held cardboard signs, often the signs said, " Homeless. Anything will help." It was a daily scenario.
After many stops, I arrived at my own exit point, pushed those homeless thoughts away. I spotted the turnstyles ahead. On either side of me, men rushed by in suits and neckties and carried briefcases. Several women were in dresses or pant suits and they also raced toward the exit. Maybe they were on their way to the mall or going to work. I hurried to catch the Muni at the other end of the station. I didn't want to miss my dental appointment.
On my way and off to my left, I passed by this little old lady, who was digging through the trash. She was so small that she could barely do that. She never looked up or approached me.
After passing by her, I slowed down, hesitated, then stopped dead in my tracks, as if I was stunned. I spun around on my heel and walked back to her and asked, "Did you lose something? What are you looking for? Can I help you find it?"
"I'm looking for food. I'm hungry," she said in a weak voice.
My heart sank along with my shoulders. It was then that I noticed the ragged clothing, the unkempt hair, and the sun-weathered skin. No, this was not a previously planned scheme to make me feel sorry for her. This was possibly everyday life for her and countless others.
I was but one person. What could I do to help? I knew I had no money on me, so I couldn't give her any. While she continued to dig, I searched through my bag for anything remotely resembling food. Maybe I had some gum, or a package of crackers, which I sometimes kept in there. There wasn't even a granola bar to give her. Time was ticking by and I needed to go.
I stared at my freshly popped buttery popcorn. I had really looked forward to having it. Oh, how I wanted it. The scent alone made my stomach growl.
I looked again at this poor woman. She was starving. Maybe she hadn't eaten anything in days. It wasn't a balanced dinner, but at least the popcorn was food.
I decided. I did the only thing I could. I handed it to her, all of it. And said, "Please take it. It's yours. I have to go now. I'm so sorry."
She took it like it was a prized possession, smiled a toothy grin, and thanked me over and over again as I walked away. I'm pretty sure others were watching. How could they not? I didn't care what they saw or what they thought either.
The last thing she said as I rushed away was, "God bless you!"
I was late for my dental appointment.. I had to re-appoint. I lived pretty far out of town. I never told anyone why I was late. I was kind of embarrassed and I pretty much thought it would be frowned upon. I never mentioned it to my son until much later.
It just felt hurtful if I was to ignore this little lady. She was someone's mom or grandma, daughter, or sister, who was obviously living off the streets and scrounging for food. I will never know how she came to this point in life.
I'm not sorry that I stopped, and hoped that maybe I made one tiny difference that day. I just wished I could have done something more long lasting.
I came back by there later, passed by the rotundas which were public bathrooms. I remembered the last time I tried to use one. Somebody came out and said , You can't go in there"
" I can wait."
" No, you can't. You can't use this one.".
I was a bit put off, and didn't understand. I left the area. wasn't until much later I found out what that meant. I was told that some of the street people go in there for other purposes. I left and walked toward the entrance to the Bay Area Rapid Transit aka BART
The little lady who had been digging through the trash earlier was nowhere that I could see. I had some money now. I couldn't have told anyone what she looked like either, except her hair looked like it had been caught in a windstorm, her face looked red and wrinkled, and she was dressed in dirty rags.The visual was stuck in my mind, yet filed away.
I barely knew this woman, yet her presence I would never forget.