I shifted from one foot to the other, trying to relieve the pain that was creeping out from my between my shoulders all the way down to my wrists.. I was choosing this pain. It wasn’t outside of my neurosurgeons rules.. I was just standing. At the AT&T counter because it was that celebratory day- UPGRADE day. (That happy day, every two years, when I feel like I’m getting a deal on a new apple product. .But, I’m not. Yup. I’m that person.) It should have been fine. Except there was nowhere to sit. I didn’t think it would take this long. However, it did.
I almost cared how long it took. (My neck certainly did.) But, by the time those magic buttons were hit and I was restoring form the haloed “iCloud” I was over it.
I walked out the door thinking one thing: “I need my icepack and my comfy chair….. (And play with my new phone.)” Okay. Maybe, that’s 2 things.
Even without the neck brace, I can’t turn my head- so my peripheral vision is pretty limited. We’ll pretend that’s why I didn’t notice the beautiful mother daughter pair as they walked to meet me at my car. (As opposed to the truth: I had visions of apps and fear of back up failure dancing in my head. It’s pathetic, I know.)
Eventually, I noticed. (Even in an Apple induced stupor, I still notice people.. I’m that extroverted. It’s true.)
I smiled. Honestly? I thought it was one of my not so well known neighbors, walking past me. The mother a slim, raven haired Indian or Pakistani beauty in a long sari -type skirt and t-shirt. The daughter- wearing about the same only accessorized by a baby doll cradled in her arms. I was pretty sure it was a new neighbor from down the street…..
Until, I noticed the sign:
“Please Help. Lost job. No money, Need food. We love Jesus.”
My brain immediately said: “Not my neighbor. Couldn’t be. Not begging in the strip mall parking lot. ”
So….I did what I usually do when I see someone in need… I reached into my purse and grabbed what cash I had. I handed it to the mother and in broken English she thanks and blessed me and kept saying she loves Jesus. I mumbled something about how I do to.. then I turned and hugged the daughter….
Then I got into my car and left.
As I drove home, the visions of Apps stopped dancing through my head. Instead, I felt startled. (My reflexes are slow, blame the meds.)
I’ll be honest- here is what I found startling: 1) I’ve never seen someone of their ethnicity panhandling, which somehow made me feel this was a true case of a mother’s desperation…..and 2) There was something strangely implied in their sign…..like it would help their cause to say “They love Jesus.”
As I drove home either my own preconceptions caught up with me or my convictions did. To be honest? I’m still not sure. It bothers me that their ethnicity lended a sense of credibility to their stated need. It made me feel like a racist. Do I have assumptions about my Indian (or) Pakistani neighbors that I don’t even notice? (Like that they would never panhandle due to pride…. or that their familial communities meet their needs? It also haunts me that they felt like in order to get the help they needed they needed to clearly state: “We love Jesus.”
I would have helped them either way. I help because Jesus loves me… and I love Jesus… I would never not help someone based on their race or beliefs. Jesus didn’t.
As I drove.. shoulders and neck aching, questions flew through my mind: “What is their story? Are they alone? Are they safe? Are there siblings. Do they even speak enough English to find and access the resources that are available in our community? How long have they been here? What happened?”
And finally- and embarrassingly- Were they lying about the Jesus thing because they were afraid no one would help because of their ethnicity?
Why did I even suspect that?
I can’t shake the questions or their faces. I can;t shake the feeling that I missed an opportunity. I can;t shake the fact that- as soon as I saw that cardboard sign… I didn’t see this woman as a neighbor. I saw her as: a panhandler. A beggar. Sure… I did the minimum. I gave her what cash I had…..
She IS my neighbor.
I should have treated as one. I should have asked her how she was. What had happened. How I could help…. or help her find help…..
That’s how I would have treated a neighbor.
I can’t go back in time… (even with the post surgical ads.. they aren’t that trippy.) But, I can do this…. Next time? I will ask questions. I won’t do the minimum. I will care with more than cash. I’ll care with my heart.
Dear Lord…. I don’t know the circumstances of this momma and daughter. Lord have mercy on me and on them. Bless them. Provide for them. Help them. Send someone to love them with more than cash. Forgive my prejudices Lord… and forgive me for categorizing them as beggars/ panhandlers instead of neighbors…. help me to see people as you do. Lord… I’d like to see them again.. and ask the questions that came too late…. But if I don’t , I’l be watching for the next opportunity. I love you Lord- amen.
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a]38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
So readers…. have you ever taken the time to talk to someone in need instead of just handing over cash?
If not… What stops you?
And before you get all “Tracey- you’re not prejudiced, and you did more than what others would have…” (Because I know you are kind hearted readers who don’t like it when I’m hard on myself….. ) Please trust me on this… I could have walked over to the diner across the parking lot with them- sat down, ate with them (I was starving at the time) and heard their story…. I just. Didn’t.
It’s okay. I don’t think I’m a terrible person…. I just think I can learn from my mistakes… and maybe you can too;)