Sunday, December 21, 2003

Spare Change

This has been the greatest holiday season, so far. We have done SO many fun things...attended two concerts, entertained family and guests, decorated like a TV show. There have been holiday seasons, not so far past, it seems, that were more of nightmare than dream. I've been so blessed this year, and I am grateful.

Yet, I have been starkly reminded that there are others who are not so fortunate this holiday season. We went to a concert in downtown Portland last night...the Holiday Pops of the Oregon Symphony to be exact. As the spangled, velveted, satined patrons alit from their SUV's, sports sedans, and limousines onto the sidewalk under the twinkling marquee, a tiny old woman leaned forward from her shelter in a doorway asking, "Spare change?" in a quiet, Asian-accented voice. Springing out of my husband’s new Hyundai, trying to sprint between the raindrops to the shelter of the overhanging marquee, I nearly barreled right into her. Normally, I practice the conditioned reaction to "spare change" requests that people here in the Pacific Northwest have developed, in order to avoid impoverishing themselves by acceding to street-corner beggars…I pretend I didn’t hear and keep walking. I walked past her without acknowledging her, because that’s what you DO. But my heart was broken for her.

And I actually had NO change. I had stuffed my evening bag with lipstick, powder, my ID and credit cards. No money. And I was pretty sure she didn’t take VISA… I tried to put her out of my mind, and couldn’t. I knew I had to give her something. All this consideration took place in the wink of an eye…suddenly, I was dunning my sister and her husband for cash so I could put something into this poor little lady’s hand. My sister coughed up two bucks. I went back to the woman and pressed it into her hand. She said, "God bless you." And I blinked back the tears.

But her image stuck with me as we gave our tickets at the door, stepped into the marble vestibule of the concert hall, and ordered a couple of glasses of chardonnay to sip while we waited for my husband, who had gone to park the car. I was kind of relieved I had not put cash into my evening bag. All I had was a fifty dollar bill, and I had decided not to take it with me, because it would be too easy to lose. I’m pretty sure I would have given it to her if I’d had it with me.  …Maybe I’m NOT so glad I didn’t have it.


  1. I had so much to say and couldn't get under the 500 character limit. :-(
    So I've commented in my journal. Thanks for this very heartfelt and important story.

  2. This is exactly what I am feeling but you were able to experience it. There is something about this time of year when you give and give to people who already have too, too much. What does it mean?