A couple of days ago, a woman approached me in the parking lot of a store where I had just bought groceries. Her face was a mask of despair; tears streamed down her face as she told me about her two-year-old and disabled brother waiting in the car, about how she and her husband were separated and she was trying to get to the next town and could I spare just a little to help her out?
I didn’t want to get out of my car. I wanted to get back to my apartment and finish my day. I fished a couple of dollars out of my pocket, taking care not to let her see how much more I had, and wished her good luck.
Odds are, it was a hustle. As I left, I saw her heading back to her car, in which I thought I saw a man. It might have been the disabled brother, or it might have been her alcoholic husband, or her loser boyfriend, or her pimp. Her hand in her pocket may have been clutching a tissue, or it may have been securing whatever she used to make the tears convincing.
And I found them convincing. If it was a hustle, it was the best one anybody’s ever used on me.
But hustle or not, the event has stuck with me. It doesn’t take much courage–none at all, really–to assume somebody like that woman is a liar, a junkie, too lazy to just go out and get a job, to just keep your window up and shake your head and drive off. It only took a little more to hand her a couple of bucks and go about my business.
I wish I had shown more courage. I wish I had told her no, I won’t give you cash, but I’ll be happy to walk inside with you and buy you some groceries, or put some gas in your car. I wish I had found the grace to at least touch her hand, or her arm, and tell her it would be okay somehow. I wish I had found the courage to treat her like a human being, even if she saw me as nothing but a mark.
Because if her story was genuine, showing her someone cares about her may have been worth more than any amount of money I could give. And if it wasn’t, showing her another path might have helped her choose a different way one day.
It’s little moments like I had, or could have had, with that woman that shape our lives. Next time I have the chance, I’ll do better.
And if you are that woman, if you somehow find this and read it, I’m sorry. I should have treated you like a human being. If your need is sincere, please know it will be okay. And if not, please know there are better ways to get what you need.