Two years ago, while walking around Northampton by myself, I came upon a homeless woman, who was asking for money, with a child by her side. Now, someone asking us for money is really nothing new, no matter where we are. People find themselves in dire straits, for whatever reason, and humble themselves to ask others for the change passersby have in their pockets. To be honest, for my own reasons, I don’t usually give money to people, and in this day and age, I’m likely to carry a card rather than cash. So was the case when this woman in Northampton asked me for money, and I told her that I had nothing to give. She thanked me and told me to have a nice day.
As I walked away from her, I couldn’t shake the look in her eyes. It wasn’t a passive look of asking for a handout; it was a genuine display of desperation and dejection—one that said, “I don’t know how this happened. I’m not supposed to be here.” In those quick seconds, I thought about how hard it must be for her to ask strangers for money with her child looking on, knowing that in most cases, parents only want to be a shining example of the lives they want their children to lead. I thought about how she likely grew up wanting to be a teacher or veterinarian or astronaut, not living on the streets. And I thought about how, at my most difficult moments, those people who showed compassion and acceptance of me were what helped me through. And in that instant, I asked myself what I could do for this person to provide some sense of reprieve in what I assumed to be a difficult moment in her life.
I turned around, walked back to her, and said, “Can I give you a hug?” Without hesitation, she agreed and she opened up her arms. As I hugged her, she broke down, sobbing and shuddering. I made sure to hold on tight, communicating nonverbally that it was safe for her to place her burden on me for that short period of time. It was probably a good three minutes before she let go of me, and wiping the tears from her eyes, she expressed her appreciation. I said, “I hope that helped.” “It did,” she said.
I want to be clear that I am not sharing this story with you for praise, as I can be as critical as the next person. But in this case, I was able to be open to what turned out to be a real human connection, and I am still grateful for it to this day. My challenge this week for you is to take (or make) an opportunity to offer kindness and compassion to another person who you may suspect needs it. Stranger, colleague, friend, enemy—doesn’t matter. Because really, we’re all trying to do the best we can in this crazy, mixed up world. Don’t shy away from human connection because it’s scary, especially when you have a chance to help another. It’ll leave a mark on the other person, yes, but also on you. Hey, you could even still be reminiscing about it two years later.