It was much earlier in the day than I wanted to be out and about. If it weren’t for the fact that I needed to get some work done on my Jeep, I would probably still be snug in my bed. Still, I was thankful that they were able to fit me in, even if it was at the crack of dawn. Stifling a yawn, I gave the mechanic all the information he needed and handed over my key. He cheerfully told me that it would be about an hour and that I could sit in the waiting room or head out to enjoy the great outdoors. I took a quick glance at the shabby brown couch in the dimly lit waiting area and decided that I would take a short walk to wake myself up and welcome in the new day.
As I strolled along the empty sidewalks of our town, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my stylish, but highly impractical shoes were not made for walking any distance. Fortunately for me, I found a small park area complete with a wooden bench and settled myself down on it. I was highly engrossed in checking my messages on my phone when I heard, “Excuse me, Miss, would you happen to have just one quarter to spare? I need something to eat.”
Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I’m not usually one to give money to the aggressive panhandlers I sometimes see holding cardboard signs soliciting for money. I’d rather support some of the wonderful agencies, particularly those that help women and children, that I know will help others.
I looked up, expecting to see a disheveled drunk, but instead found a young man walking across the path from me. He looked as though he had just hastily wiped the sleep from his eyes and finger-combed his dark blond hair into a pony tail, then rolled out of the grungy camouflage sleeping bag that he carried on his back along with a worn, army-green duffel bag.
He wasn’t begging for money. He was very politely asking. As the mother of two teenagers, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to cause one so young to sleep in a park and wander the streets looking for a meal. My heart went out to him.
I looked into his clear blue eyes and told him that I rarely have any cash on me because I always used my debit card, but that I would look. Digging through the bottom of my oversized bag, I rummaged among old receipts, gum wrappers and spare pens to find that I had not one, but three quarters. It was all the money I had, yet it was nothing to me.
“I don’t know how much this will help,” I said as I held the coins out to him, “but you can have them.”
I was taken aback at the young man’s gratitude as he hurried over to accept those three quarters. “Thank you, thank you,” he said over and over “this will help so much”
As I walked back to get my car, my feet didn’t hurt nearly as much. After all, my shoes didn’t have any holes in them and I had a closet full of more appropriate walking shoes that I could change into. That young man seemed to have only what he could carry.
Our exchange may have lasted two minutes. Yet, it has stayed with me for much longer. Something about this homeless stranger touched me. Maybe it is the parent in me, but I worry for this boy and what may become of him. I still don’t see myself giving money to bums standing on street corners and freeway exits, yet I know that there are others that I can help. I’m finding that I am looking at people in a different way and have new compassion in my heart… all for the price of three quarters.