First Response, Last Impression
Today, I woke up feeling a little off. Just not quite…anything. Not happy or sad. Not depressed or anxious. Just kind of nothing. I decided we needed to get out of the house, so I found a destination and out we went. As we climbed into the car (after a hectic 20 minutes of trying to exit the front door with four children), I noticed the gas light and the gauge. Not like “oops the gas light just came on when I pulled into the driveway” on but “we might not make it to the gas station” on (thanks honey;). Off I went with yet another obstacle holding me from quick arrival anywhere. I pulled in and pumped my gas. As I was hanging up the nozzle (I had a bit of trouble with it not shutting off properly so I was quite frazzled), a man approached me. It was windy and I couldn’t hear what he was saying. So, here I am, a woman, alone with four young children in the car, struggling with the gas pump, and a little frustrated to say the least. Finally, I hear what he’s saying, “could you help me out with about half a gallon of gas today?” And, do you know what I said? “No, not today.”
I had about a million thoughts in that split second between understanding what he was asking and making my decision. Is this guy trying to hustle me? Is he trying to steal my credit card (this one I don’t think was even rational)? Is this a scam? I can’t walk away from my children. Why is this guy asking me for money? This is awkward. And, that’s probably only a fraction of them.
What is it that has made me so jaded that my first response to another human being is rejection? The world is a scary place sometimes. The news is filled with it. Robbery. Drugs. Kidnapping. Rape. Murder. When I see someone panhandling, often my first thought is: I can’t give them money, what if they use it to buy booze or drugs. But, here’s a question: what if they do? I can’t control what other people do. I can control my own actions. I can decide to believe the best in people.
One time, I saw this woman, obviously pregnant on the side of the road with a sign. I beckoned her over and tried to give her advice of where to go for help. She seemed to have tried several places and had little luck. I gave her some cash- not much but it was what I had. As we drove away, my husband looked at me and said- “ya know I think she was a meth addict.” Apparently, you can tell by people’s teeth- I had no idea. So, maybe she spent that money getting a fix. Maybe not. I don’t know. But, what I do know is that my heart ached for that mother standing on the side of the road- so down and out that she had nowhere to go and if I could have thought of some other way to really help her, I would have.
I can’t always stop when I see someone on the side of the road. I don’t always have cash even if I felt confident giving it. But, I have bought a couple boxes of zone bars for the man outside of Walmart. And, one time I gave a man at our exit a couple apples (literally all I had with me to give). I have grand plans of making “blessing bags” to keep in my car (and have for like 2 years but life- though it’s my project for the weekend so fingers crossed). This isn’t the extent of my giving but, I’m ashamed to say the number of times I just drive past or say “no, not today” when someone asks me for something far outweighs my random acts of charity.
Back to today, as I walked back to my car, I felt a pit in my stomach. I sat there wondering why I’d said no. I had money to spare for this man certainly. I looked in my rear view mirror and wished I had said yes as I saw him dejectedly getting back in his car. And, then I had an epiphany. “No” was my first instinct, it was my first response, it’s what I said. But, it didn’t have to be my final decision. I quickly dug some cash out of my wallet (again not much but more than enough to cover the half gallon he asked for) and quickly walked over to his car. He was on his phone and didn’t notice me at first. But when he did, a look of relief flooded over his face and he said “thank God.” And, you know what, I believe it was God that sent me there today. Put me in that place to help that man. I still have no idea why he needed money- he didn’t look well off but his car wasn’t a trash can on wheels either and he had a cell phone. Maybe he forgot his wallet or was just plain out of luck. I don’t know. What I do know is this: my first response may have been “no” but it’s my final action that mattered. Don’t let a no yesterday affect your yes today. You can always change your mind. And, sometimes all it takes is half a gallon of gas and a little hope.