The forgotten ones…
Yesterday I was running late to head up north to my friend Lauren’s house for a relaxing day filled with eating and painting. I stopped at the local gas station on the way just expecting to fill out before I got on the freeway. As I pulled my car up to the pump, I noticed a woman, who was clearly homeless rooting through the nearby gas station garbage can. I have to admit my first thought was, “I hope she doesn’t ask me for anything because I am in a rush.”
As I got out of my car, she walked up to me with all of her life belongings. Instead of asking me for money, she said, “Excuse me Miss, I am in the business of collecting empty bottles for change, do you think you could spare any extra bottles?”
As I frantically looked through my car, which I had coincidentially just cleaned out the day before, hoping to find something of value for her. I said, “How long have you been in this business?”
Shocked and a little taken back by the fact that I was actually engaging her in a conversation, she said, “For about 3 years ever since I came here from NYC.”
After I realized that I had nothing of value to her, I apologized and said I was sorry that I couldn’t help. I then asked her what she did back in NY? I learned that she was an aspiring artist who came to L.A. on a false promise made by someone she met over the internet. She had shipped all of her art to this person and he sold it and promised to give her a large share of the sales once she came out to California. Once she got out here, she learned that she had been part of a scam by someone who lived somewhere totally different. However, her most valued possessions, were stolen and gone forever.
Depressed and homeless, she battled with an addiction that almost landed her in prison and/or dead. Just as I looked down at the time and realized I had to go, she asked if I liked animals? Well, for those of you who know me well, you know animals are my weakness. If space allowed, I would probably have my own petting zoo. She reached in her bag and pulled out a beautiful bangle cat. She said, “Meet Bones. I met him three years ago on the street. He had been ran over by a car and was in pretty bad shape. When I picked him up, he was basically a bag of bones. I took him to the vet and she worked on him for free and he has been with me ever since. I always remember the day that I met this little guy because it marked the start to my now three years sober. Before we both had nothing to live for, now we have each other.”
I was taken back by this story and I realized that in my conversation with this woman, I never formally introduced myself. So I said, “You know, I have spent the last 10 minutes talking to you and I never introduced myself, I’m Maria.”
Clearly at a loss for words, she said, “You already met Bones. My name is Peg and you made my day by taking the time out to talk with me. I do this route every Saturday and when I walk down Sunset, no one dares to make eye contact with me. People look away, keep their heads down or roll their eyes. Even when I try to make contact with people, their response is, ‘No. Go away. I don’t have anything for you or get a job.’ People don’t even believe that I am a human being. You are the first person in months that has formally introduced yourself to me.”
As Peg and I bid our farewells, I began to reflect on this experience. I know that many of you have said to me that you wish that you could help people more, but you either 1. Don’t have the time. 2. Don’t know that right people. 3. Aren’t in the right industries to do so. What most don’t realize is the help that you can offer is normally right in front of you. You just need to open your eyes and your heart. Doing something good doesn’t have to be costly, exclusive or time consuming. Just a smile, a friendly face or a hello can brighten someone’s day in ways that you have never imagined. I challenge you all to try it. It may just brighten your day just as much.
I would like to congratulate my coworker and friend Tara Regan for completing the Oakland Marathon. Our friend David Lee on completing his first half marathon today. You guys rock. I would also like to send an extra special shout out to Brenda Chroniak as she tackles her 3rd Boston Marathon tomorrow.