The lady stood at the foot of the off ramp wearing blue jeans and a green flannel shirt. Her hair was pulled back from her face, free of make up or lipstick. She didn’t appear to be particularly young, or old either, for that matter.
Just a woman like many others I’ve seen, only this one held a sign in her hands. It was made of brown cardboard and had torn edges like it had been ripped from the bottom of a box. On it were written nine words, only I didn’t count them then, not that morning as I drove to work like any other day.
Please help. My family has no money or food.
The light changed and I found myself coming to a stop nearly right beside where the woman stood on the little grassy patch next to the road. I rummaged around for the five dollar bill I had taken from my nightstand and stuck in my purse just before walking out the door that morning. I rolled down my window and stretched out my hand with the bill between my fingers.
“Ma’am,” I said, trying to get her attention. “This is for you.” The moment she turned around to face me is one I won’t soon forget. As her eyes landed on my own and she took the five dollar bill from my hand she said without expression on her face, “I am fortunate for people like you.” Then the light changed and I drove away.
But her words stayed with me. There have been times when I have been wary of people seeking help, not knowing if they are another scammer waiting to take advantage. Maybe this woman was one of those, but something told me she wasn’t. I don’t know what it was. Just something.
“I am fortunate for people like you,” she had said and when I thought about her words I was amazed. I am fortunate, she said. This woman who stood on the side of the road with a sign asking for money to buy food for her family before 8 a.m. on a cold morning called herself fortunate. It made me realize that so many of us take our good fortunate for granted, and it reminded me of a passage that I’ve read before:
If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep ... you are richer than 75 percent of the world’s population.
If you have a little money in the bank or spare change in a dish someplace ... you are among the top 8 percent of the world’s wealthy.
If you can drink from your kitchen faucet whenever you want ... you are more fortunate by far than 1.5 billion people who have no access to clean water at all.
If you can attend a church or a political rally without fear or harassment, arrest, torture or death ... you have the kind of freedom denied to more than 3 billion people in the world.
If you can read this message, you are more blessed than 2 billion people who cannot read at all.
If your everyday problems are weighing you down, there are millions of people on earth who would gladly trade places with you right now — problems and all — and feel they have been royally blessed.
I left work for lunch that day and part of me hoped I would see her again, the lady standing at the foot of the off ramp. Another part of me hoped she had been helped to the point that she could buy what she needed for her family, at least for that day. But she wasn’t there. I haven’t seen her again, but still think of her now and again when I feel like I have problems. I think about the woman who was at a place we pray we never have to be, yet she still felt blessed. Even in her hard times, she was able to see the good.
We should all be so fortunate.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.