Priceless Gifts from a Homeless Stranger
By Russ Towne
I almost didn’t notice her as I drove past on the way back from a last-minute shopping run for forgotten items for Christmas dinner with extended family. She was all alone lying on a sidewalk on Christmas Day. The sight broke my heart.
I was only a block or two from a small neighborhood store so I drove there to find food for her. The selection was poor. I ended up getting a banana, personal size carton of milk, and a pre-made meal for children’s school lunches that contained meat, cheese, crackers, juice, and a small candy bar. It was a meager offering indeed.
I didn’t wish to disturb or frighten the woman so I parked across the street and held the items so she could see I had food as I walked toward her, stopping about fifteen feet away. I noticed that her head lay within a few feet of several chickens of various colors and breeds on the other side of a metal mesh fence. I’d never noticed the beautiful hens before.
I said, “Excuse me.” She jerked up with arms defensively crossed in front of her face and chest. I slowly walked toward her holding out the food. A smile lit her face as she eagerly accepted the humble items and thanked me. Unbidden, a rush of words poured forth as often happens when lonely people are offered a friendly ear. She said she was lying near the hens because she likes chickens and they made her feel safe. She told of her family having chickens when she was a young girl and, sometimes, they would peck her when she gathered eggs. She understood they were just trying to protect their babies. She stated in a matter-of-fact way, “People like you are stronger than me, but I’m trying to get stronger,” adding she was on mental health medications and was addicted to crystal meth. She proudly added that she was trying to get off the drugs and hadn’t had any for two days.
I was speechless and didn’t know how to respond. I nodded in acknowledgement to her successful two days. I believe she could tell by my look that I understood it wasn’t an easy accomplishment. She had only a light jacket and was using it as a pillow. She had nothing else; no spare clothes or other possessions that I could see. I said I had an extra jacket in the car and asked if she’d like to have it. She said she would and I got it for her. She immediately put it on.
She talked for a while more, then we said goodbye. When I was about halfway to my car, I turned around, took some cash out of my wallet, rolled it up, and handed it to her, saying “You may need this.” As she took it, she looked at me eye-to-eye and solemnly swore, “I won’t do anything bad with it.” I know that if it is humanly within her power to do so she’ll keep her promise.
For little more than the price of a humble meal and a little time she gave so much more to me, and her gifts were priceless. Trust. Gratitude. A solemn promise, beautiful smile, and glimpses of her struggle, story, and glorious spirit. A reminder of the depth of joy that can come from giving and the priceless gifts one can receive by doing so.
We wished each other a Merry Christmas. I got in my car and, as I began to drive away, said, “Stay safe!” If only one Christmas wish could come true for me this year, may it be that she does indeed stay safe and rises above the terrible demons that have tried to keep her down.