She was walking up the sidewalk at my office when I turned into the parking lot. Older and already beat up from the morning Louisiana heat, she looked at me and I smiled at her. By the time I parked, unplugged my cell phone, gathered my purse, my lunch bag, and my coffee cup, she was crossing the parking lot and headed my direction.
I am ashamed to say that my first thought was, “If I get out of my car right now, that’s going to put us walking in together, and I will feel the need to converse with her, and walk at her pace so as not to leave her in my dust, and I am already late getting to work anyway.” As I climbed out of my car I saw that she was still making an effort at eye contact. There was no way around speaking. I smiled and said, “Good morning.”
As she approached, she responded with, “I hope I’m in the right place.”
I was at that moment resigned to the fact that we were going to share a conversation. I asked what she was looking for. She replied that she was looking for help with her bills. True, after Hurricane Katrina we had an office in our building for the St. Vincent de Paul Society to help evacuees from New Orleans who had come to Shreveport. I explained to her that the SVdP office was no longer at our facility, but that if she would come into our office, we could get a phone number for her.
As I turned to head toward the building with her, she spoke to me, but I do not recall what she said. On the other hand, I will never forget how she looked. I seriously believed this woman might pass out in our parking lot right then and there. Though my arms were full of all my unnecessary gear, I managed to throw an arm around her as I asked if she was okay, and then, surprising myself with the next question: “Have you eaten anything?” She managed to say that she hadn’t, and as I steadied her gently, I prayed that she would not fall out on the asphalt. I knew I would never be able to assist her back up. We walked slowly, and I explained that we were going to walk in through these doors, and I was going to show her a chair and then get her something to eat and drink. I could only promise this because I knew I had packed fruit for my breakfast, and water is always on hand.
When we got in through the doors, I dropped all my gear on the receptionist’s desk and directed the lady to a soft armchair. Explaining the lady’s situation to our receptionist, Linda, I dug through my lunch bag and pulled out a banana. A beautifully sweet, organic banana that I had eagerly anticipated consuming for breakfast. I asked the lady if she was okay with a banana since it had more nutritional value than anything else in my bag, and she said yes. Then I ran into the kitchen for some water.
While I was digging for ice to fill a glass, one of our deacons walked in and asked, as if we were already in mid-conversation, “Is that for her?” I said it was, and he offered to grab a bottle of water. Assuming that might be better, I agreed but continued with the ice. By the time I returned to her, she was surrounded by the deacon and one of our sisters, who were both offering help in ways I could not. Sister took the lady to her office, leaving instruction with Linda to call our local SVdP president and have her patched through directly to Sister.
With no more assisting to do, I cleared Linda’s desk of my belongings and headed to my office, praying this lady would find what she needs, and knowing my part in that process was thankfully over. The deacon followed me into the hall and asked if I had given the lady my snack. I said, “Actually, that was my breakfast.” I was surprised at myself, for I believe this is the first time that I ever took something away from myself to give to another person. I always imagine doing it, but I have never actually put it into action. The feeling was surreal. I realized that for those past five minutes I did not feel like myself, couldn’t remember actual words we exchanged. I just knew I had been willing to hold her upright and share my food. That is quite unlike me, I’m sad to say. I have never been good at reaching out. In the middle of pondering the experience, the deacon walked back in to my office, laid a banana and a peach on my desk and said, “You can’t out-give God. Thanks for helping that lady.”
I sat staring at the fruit, wanting to cry, but replaying his words: “You can’t out-give God.” God has given me so much. All I ever had to do was share it. I guess God knew that I wanted to help, but never knew how. He knew he would need to walk across a parking lot and look me in the eye to get me to act. I hope I remember this lesson, and I hope God gives me more chances to see him in other people. I pondered his words from the Gospel: “Whatever you do for the least of these…”
I should have given her my granola bar too.