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Monday, September 9, 2013

A Sip of Life

She stood on the corner, a familiar sight, holding a cardboard sign. I couldn't read the words scrawled in thick black pen, my car was too far back in the line of many waiting impatiently for the obnoxious light to turn green. I didn't need to know, though, what it said. I already knew.

It was a rushed afternoon, that day. I'd left my GPS at home, couldn't find the charger in my muddle of belongings, so I'd looked up the general vicinity of it all and taken off. I had to do two pickups before 5 pm, then shuttle the materials back to their destination by 6. I was hoping the hour commute wouldn't be extended too much with the jam of weekend traffic.

As I swerved into a parking spot directly in front of the last business, picked up the two heavy boxes, and retraced my tire tracks back to their return route, I thought about how hungry I was. I wanted a snack, something sweet, and I remembered a great little cupcake store just three blocks down. If I popped in I could pick up something for the drive home. . .

It was then that I saw her. She was dressed in shorts and a blue shirt, sweater tied around her waist. It was too hot for September, yet she stood unfaltering in the sun's heavy rays, holding up her sign and facing traffic. I breathed an inward sigh of relief that when the light changed I would be able to speed right by her, rather than waiting, parked a foot away while she stared at me, waiting for humanity to register.

I thought about my cupcake. I thought about the hundreds of cars, thousands perhaps, that had passed by this woman today. She stood there, unashamed, brave, strong, a piece of cardboard conveying her only thoughts. We closeted ourselves in metal containers, hid behind dark glasses, and kept our faces turned so we wouldn't see. We sped past to Starbucks, McDonalds, and Wendy's to spend more on a cup of coffee than we were willing to squeeze out a 3-inch-rolled-down-window. We would repeat the process daily, whether we saw a cardboard sign or not.

Celine Dion sings a heart-wrenching song, Love is all We Need, and one line in there haunts me.  "Why don't people seem to care at all, as long as it's not about them?" That woman who was standing there needed help. Sure I don't know whether she was looking for money for drugs or alcohol or cigarettes, or whether she was hoping for a few dollars so she could have a simple meal. Yet in that moment that each of us was faced with the opportunity to surround her with love and compassion, we pretended we couldn't see her need. It was easier that way.

I don't know how I can change the way I react to the needy, whether deserving or not. As a single woman I often find myself fearful to help, afraid that if I do I will become the next statistic on the ten o'clock news. Yet it seems we should be taking some form of responsibility and turning that into concrete actions. Why is our cup of coffee more important than a life?

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