I walked down a main street on campus with a friend I haven’t seen in a while, on a mission to quench my thirst in the surprisingly hot and sunny fall weather when a black woman stops us. She is sitting half way on the lap of a man, half way on the ground. “Where are you guys from?” I responded with my foreignness but made sure to point out that my friend is American – having lived here most of her life. “What do you think about America?” she asked me, as the gentleman whose lap she was balancing on bent slightly toward me, apparently paying more attention now. “Well, I like it here, but there are of course some things that are less great or that I dislike,” I responded, sensing the tense situation as the couple looked at me as if they were ready to attack, slightly frowning. “Stuff you dislike… WHAT do you dislike,” the man uttered somewhat aggressively.
I bowed down to get to face level with them. “Well, for once, although I really can’t complain about the many opportunities here, I’m saddened to see that there’s little of a safety net to catch people who are out in bad luck – or who just started out that way. I mean I’m all for self-help where possible, but who is to tell a person to pull him or herself up by the bootstrap if they were born and raised in the inner city, attended a substandard school, and did not get proper health care or nutrition while growing up?”***The slight frowns turned to expressions of approval, especially on behalf of the woman. “Honey, I agree with you. See, I’m not homeless but I’m unemployed, and it is hard to get the ends to meet so I beg.” She continued “I have three boys in school that I have to feed and take care of… You know, school is really necessary these days. What are you studying, sweetie?” “Oh me? I’m doing my PhD in political science,” I responded with a slight smile. “I’m so proud of you, dear,” she uttered as she grabbed for my hand and held it. “Do you know what? I’m going back to school next year, I think, although I’m 49 years old.” “Well then I’m certainly proud of you,” I smiled. “How old are you, sweetie,” she quizzed me, before answering herself. “21? 19?” I started giggling. “Had it only been that well. I’m 26.” She looked at me in disbelief. “Oh, well, then I certainly need some of what you’re having.”
She started playing with my bangles. “Do you want some?” I quickly asked? “Oh,” she chuckled, “ideally I want money, but yes, I’d love some”. I quickly removed two and handed them to her. She struggled to make them fit on her rough, cut up hands. “They don’t fit,” she exclaimed as she looked rather disappointed. I glanced over on my other hand where I wore two bigger ones, and quickly slipped off a wood and metal one that was slightly loose on my arm. “here, try this”. It looked like it may have a better chance of working but it was still not easy. “Push, push” she yelled, spitting on her wrist to make it more slippery. “But I don’t want to hurt you,” I said. “Push, I really want it to fit.” “Uhm, ok, but really, you need to tell me to stop if I’m hurting you,” I responded nervously. She spat on her wrist again. I made a final effort to push a little harder, and lo and behold; the bracelet finally overcame the thickest part of her wrist and slipped onto her arm.
“Thaaaaank you,” she said, her eyes beaming with happiness, as she bent forward to give me a big, long bear hug. “Thank you so much, dear. You know how most people really look down on us, disrespecting us while we’re begging and stuff. Thank you, and bless all what you do.” I smiled at her and squeezed her hand. “Thank you. I hope you have a wonderful day. God bless you and your efforts to go back to school” I shook the man’s hand as well as I stood up to leave.
Sometimes, money is not the most important thing (although it is certainly necessary in this life) To share a smile, some words, a hug, a compliment, or even to take the time for a conversation can really change someone’s day, especially if that somebody is someone who people typically ignore. Not only that; making people’s day feels more beautiful than most other things in life, even awesome gifts. And believe me, I’m far from a selfless person; gifts usually really mean a lot to me 😉
***It may, from my statement, appear that I’m a socialist. I’m not; I vote liberal (by the Old World definition of the word, not the US definition) back in my country of citizenship, but I grew up in a welfare state where the liberal standard is much more humane than what it is here in the US. Still, I’ve also seen the downside of the Nordic welfare state’s lack of competition, mainly mediocrity.
Scarf: Nahda Designs, faux fur scarf: H&M, dolman sleeve crop blazer: New Look, pleated palazzo pants: Boohoo, floral grandma bag: Forever21, ankle boots: Aldo