That’s what I gave her, because that is what I had and I didn’t even think I had that much on me. I came out of the grocery store in full sunlight with a near sleeping child in the cart and miscellaneous mom purchases like premade silver dollar pancakes and fresh squeezed juice and an icy cold bottle of diet coke. And as I was headed to my car to put it all away and strap in my unruly sidekick I saw a girl, about my age, wandering the parking lot, looking for some sign of hope. I could see in the short space of me smiling at her, first a quick slump of her shoulders and then a fortifying intake of breath before she approached me cautiously and asked if by chance I had any change because she needed something to eat. I looked around me and saw people getting in and out of cars, people pulling into parking spots and pulling out of them and knew I wasn’t alone. I thought of all the warnings I have had about not making myself a target, of keeping my daughter safe, of avoiding danger. A skeptic (or a realist, perhaps) may say that in the moment of me opening my wallet, the tremble in her lower lip was incredible acting – that maybe she was a con artist or a drug addict or something else entirely. I felt like she hated that she even had to ask me to help her and hated that she had to take what I could give. As she thanked me while she bowed her head an almost imperceptible amount I saw myself, my sister, my friends, and any other woman our age expressing the simplest and most profound shifts of gratitude for that instant reprieve from judgement. I do not know what it takes to brace myself as I open up to possible hostility or vitriol while asking for the kindness of a complete stranger. I’m calling BS on the stubborn belief that those in need (and we are all in need to some extent) have no shame, are simply takers, exploit dummies like me etc. That second in her life was not her entire story.
I don’t know if she bought food with that money. I don’t know if I was a sucker or fleeting safe haven for her, a face in the crowd that smiled and might just help her without wanting something in return or a chance to tell her off. But I know that she never left me and I carry her right beside the other people I pray for each night, hoping that we are all cared for when we need it most.