Jillybean's Blog

{November 16, 2012}   When Two Agree…There You Are…

There are moments in life…and there are MOMENTS.

Tonight I was blessed to have one such MOMENT.

As I was walking home from work on a typical Thursday, I was completely self-absorbed and lost in thought. Meaningless thought. I should have just been enjoying the view of the Downtown LA skyline, as I often do. Instead, I was pondering all of the shit that completely ruffled my feathers today. ‘Did that person at work just give me ATTITUDE? Does anyone have any idea what the hell I DO around here?? (Did I just step on gum??) Why does so-and-so have to be such a pain in the ass after 10 o’clock at night??’

I nearly punched the button at the crosswalk waiting for the light to change. ‘Why is this light taking so long? There’s NO cars coming! I just want to get home!! I do have vodka in the freezer, right??’
When I looked up across the street, I saw a man repeatedly hit the crosswalk button on his side. Yes! He understood. ‘CHANGE already!!’

But when the light changed, he didn’t cross. He just stood there. Did he hit the button for MY benefit?

As I walked toward him, I realized he was holding something. A sign.

“Same Old Shit.”

Oh, great. He’s homeless. At least this is a conversation I’m used to having. I don’t want to say I’m unsympathetic, but admittedly, the homeless are as expected a sight in Los Angeles as palm trees and the US Bank building. I’m used to seeing the homeless. I’m no longer surprised.

That being said, when I first moved to LA, my heart sank on a daily basis. I saw homeless people everywhere, every day. It wasn’t like I’d never seen them before. When I lived in Connecticut, I spent a fair amount of time in New York City. And there are a handful of homeless people in my Ohio hometown.

In fact, the FIRST time I ever saw a homeless person, I was about 11-years-old.

He had held a sign that said, “Will work for food.”
We were out Christmas shopping with Mom and it was cold outside. Very cold. Ohio cold.

“Mom, turn back! Turn back! That man needs food!”
Mom, being a little more worldly than I, was hesitant.
“Honey, I can’t turn around in this traffic.”
“But MOM,” I pleaded. “That man is hungry! Can’t we go to McDonald’s and get him a sandwich???”
“By the time I turn around, Jill, he’ll be gone.”
I knew she was right. I had resigned myself and sat back down in the backseat of the Jeep. All I could think about was the man standing outside with a sign, in the cold, begging…relying on the kindness of strangers. And it was CHRISTMAS…and I couldn’t do a damn anything about it. So I cried in silence. A lot. ‘Alligator tears’ as my Dad liked to sympathetically say… This surprised my mother as she caught a glimpse of me in the rear-view mirror.

“Oh, honey. I’ll turn around. It’s just gonna take…”
“No, Mom,” I said. “It’s OK.”

This memory was triggered daily during my first years in LA…until there came a time when I was exhausted.
It was sometimes emotionally exhausting to leave the house. Homeless people were at every event at the Staples Center (there’s no ignoring it when you work RIGHT THERE every day). They were constantly standing outside the grocery store. On several street corners. Outside my favorite bars (so you KNOW I saw many of them there). And every day I felt guilty that I could not single-handedly fix this problem.

I hadn’t realized I’d grown to be callus until I was walking to the Downtown library one day. I was so annoyed and just wanted to get from point A to point B without being “bothered.” I think every Angeleno has felt this way at some point.
But I always kept a spare dollar in my yoga pants as a habit when I left the house.

On this particular day, though, I wasn’t carrying the dollar out of the kindness of my heart. I was doing it out of obligation.

I just about threw it at the first person who asked. When the next guy came up to me, I said, “Go get it from that guy. I gave my last dollar to HIM.” I stomped away, nearly scoffing.

About five minutes later it hit me.

“Wow, Jill. What a bitch.”

The self-criticism continued. “You think YOU’RE having a bad day? That guy lives on the street! The least you could do is treat him with a little respect.” I realized how insensitive I’d become and basked in guilt while studying at the library. I couldn’t concentrate.

Then fate followed up with one more blow.

As I briskly walked home that afternoon, I was stopped by a man. He was unkempt, but had kind eyes. He didn’t say a word.
“What?” I asked, bordering on impatience again.
“You dropped this.”
He held his hand out. When he opened it, a five dollar bill was inside.
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“You dropped that, Miss,” said a passerby. “About three blocks back. He’s been chasing you ever since. But you had your headphones on.”
My mouth dropped open. I didn’t even know I had five bucks on me. Then I remembered I stuck it to my phone for an errand I forgot about. The same phone I had pulled out of my pocket to listen to music.
Standing there (mouth still agape and speechless), I took the bill as he handed it to me. I didn’t know what to say.
He smiled and walked away in his raggedy t-shirt and pants full of holes. In my shock, I was paralyzed. Did a homeless man just chase me for three blocks to give me my money back? Would it insult him if I told him to keep it? Did I really sense a sort of pride coming from him for having returned the money to its owner? What was going on here?
I called after him, thanking him. I still hadn’t moved.
When I finally realized what happened, when the appropriate response FINALLY came to me (where I could give it to him tactfully with a witty line like “finders keepers”), I ran after him.
“Wait!!! WAIIIIIIIT!!!!” I yelled around the corner. But as I hurriedly scanned the crowded streets, he was gone. I kicked my own ass up and down Flower Street for that one the whole way home.

My relationship with those in need (and my limiting assumptions) has evolved over the years. I went from overly emotional, to callus, to practical. Eventually I’d just offer, when asked, something to eat or drink. I still felt “off” about giving cash, but sustenance? That allowed me to feel like I was helping without being taken for a fool (I will always be grateful to Lindsey for teaching me the virtues of this one, and for making me a little more fearless in the process).

So tonight, I had my standard answer ready when in a hurry.

“I’m sorry, Sir.” I outstretched my hands. “I don’t have any cash.”
I kept walking. But something tugged at me. And I abruptly stopped.

I considered the situation. There were plenty of people out. (I’ll only walk home when there are plenty of people out.) I felt safe.

And there was just…something about him.

I turned around.
“…would you like a cigarette?”
He smiled. “Yes, Ma’am. I would.”
I handed him two.

“Have a great night,” I called over my shoulder as I walked away.

“Hmm yew tut buuh to yee,” I heard him say.

I stopped again and turned around. “I’m sorry?”

“Thank you for being so nice to me,” he said, looking down to the ground, his glasses nearly falling off. He spoke with a slight lisp and looked at me with a gentle, sheepish grin, working his way into a smile.

“You’ve been the only person to be nice to me all night.”

There it was. A shift in perspective. And the plucking of heartstrings.
Mine were actually playing a symphony. My knees nearly gave out.
‘I am??’ I thought.

And then…’Wow, what a shame.’

“Well, honey,” I said. “Don’t take it personally. People are just so used to being taken advantage of. They put their defenses up. It doesn’t have anything to do with you. And not everyone out here is as nice as you.”

“Thank you for your kindness, Miss.”

Now I felt grateful. I almost blew this chance to make him feel a little better, all because of my assumptions.

I walked over to him and looked directly into his face, taking his hand while I said, “Hey, I really don’t have any cash. But would you like something to eat? I can take you to Ralph’s.”

He dropped his chin.

“They don’t let me in there.”

Wow. I get it, but wow.

“Well, I’ll go in. Whatever you want to eat.”

He smiled and my heart melted.

“Let’s go.”

When we arrived at the store, I asked him to wait on the corner while I ran inside.
I mean, let’s face it. People can be dishonest about what they intend to do with money strangers give. But some, and even if they are few, actually do need help and actually do appreciate kindness. And if you can remain somewhat discerning, you might be able to make a small difference.
So tonight I decided to break down and give the guy a little cash.
Helping him was helping me. My heart was opening…I was letting go a little.

When I came back out, I said, “here.”
“Take it. Go have a nice night.”
He had tears in his eyes and couldn’t look at me for a second.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Jill, what’s yours?”


There’s certainly something about learning the name of a total stranger, isn’t there?

“Well, David. You take care.”
I turned to, yet again, walk away.
“Ma’am? Uh, Jill?”
“Yes, David?”

“Would you pray with me?”

There it was. That plucking of the strings again. Maybe he wasn’t so much hungry as just looking for a friend.

“Yes, David. I’ll pray with you.”
Sometimes praying with a stranger puts everything into perspective. Sometimes you can just call it like you see it, and sometimes you absolutely SHOULD. But sometimes your heart negotiates with your head a little and you let “love one another” set in. Sometimes negativity causes you to file people into categories. But life won’t always let us live that way. Life sometimes refuses to let us live without the small joys that accompany its ability to continually surprise us. Yeah, I’ll always be skeptical, guarded, and defensive…but hey, sometimes I won’t.

And at the end of today, I took comfort in a prayer with a stranger.

Through this connection, my trivial problems had left center stage…all those meaningless quandaries floating around in my head went away. THIS is what’s really important in life.

David had…just for a moment…helped me to let go.

And wherever he is tonight, I hope he feels as warm as I do.


Robert t. Krebs says:

Sometimes it’s best to let your heart take the lead in any decisions you must make in the “moment”. I don’t pretend to understand why the dear Lord puts
us in these situations, maybe it’s a stage of learning. I do know that helping others is what He would want us to do. My heartfelt feelings go out to all who are trying to cope with many situations that are perhaps beyond their control. I do think that a kind word or the opportunity to help a stranger, down on his “luck”, is the right thing to do. I have been criticized for my being “stupid” or a “sucker” but you never know if the seemingly unsignificant act of generousity you exhibit , may be a life changing event for the beneficiary of your kindness.

Sandy says:

You can bet Jill that on that night your heavenly Father was watching and saying “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

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