Friday, October 11, 2019

Blessed Silence

The woman had been standing in the August sun, partially shaded by the uneven shade of a small tree, near the southern entrance/exit to the parking lot for Target/Eddie Bauer; the driveway closest to the rest of the retail spaces. There was no sidewalk there, so she was hemmed in between the landscaping and the curb. She was young, perhaps a little on the short side and of average build, dressed in a blue shirt and a darker blue skirt. They had patterns on them, but I didn't really attend to them. Her hair was long and black. Her skin was too dark to be White. Perhaps she was from Latin America. She held a cardboard sign, her plight written on the white side in uneven black marker. The message was a touch long for the space, and so the letters seemed uncomfortably crammed together. She had lost her job, it read. And she had children to take care of, it continued. The second part, I had gathered. A small child, a girl, I think, slept through the afternoon heat in a stroller. A little girl, four, perhaps five years old, sat silently on the ground nearby.

When we were driving, my ex-girlfriend tended to insist that we stop for female panhandlers. It was, she reasoned, very hard for a woman to decide that her best option was to ask for charity from passing strangers and so their situations must be very dire indeed. I didn't know if I agreed with her on that. But it did seem to be a difficult situation for a child. This was the third time in as many days that I had encountered mothers panhandling with their children. Even being a more suspicious sort than my ex, it felt unjustified to simply walk away. Even if this was becoming an expensive habit.

The woman's eyes met mine as I approached. Then she smiled, slightly, and looked down. It made her seem even younger.

"Hello, sir," she said, in accented English. I couldn't place the accent. She then proceeded to tell me, quietly, that she'd lost her job and had children to care for.

I held a twenty-dollar bill out to her.

"Thank you, sir. God bless you. Thank you. God bless you," she said, earnestly, taking the bill from my hand.

"You're welcome."

"Thank you. God bless you." she repeated, as I began to walk away. The little girl didn't move. She simply watched me, her affect flat. Maybe it was simply the time spent in the heat, but she seemed detached from everything happening around her. I decided to believe it was the heat.

Thanks and blessings followed me as I moved away. I simply nodded.

I never know what to say to "Bless you." Because how do you return a blessing to its sender? After all, I was doing okay for myself. The money that I had just given this woman was, judging by her reaction, a windfall for her - but for me, it almost wasn't enough to warrant actively keeping up with. Bills of that size flow through my hands like water - I could never remember just where or when I'd spent the one I was sure I still had with me. Faced with someone in a bad spot (or even pretending to be in one) I've always felt that if a person's deity is handing out blessings for the asking, a person who is asking me for charity is in greater need of a blessing than I am. But, still, it seems ungracious to actually say such a thing to someone. Or even to ask someone if it is, in fact, ungracious. And so I say nothing. The discomfort seems appropriate, a reminder that I am not generous, and shouldn't think myself so.

When I passed that way again, some twenty or so minutes later, the woman and her children were gone. On the way home, I tried to sort out if I thought anything about that.

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