I often see a wiry woman pushing a cart full of odds and ends around town, or hefting around a military seabag across her narrow shoulders, weighing almost as much as she does. Her long brown hair hangs down her back in a ponytail to keep it out of her leather-hard face.
She is one of the regulars on that stretch of road who hold up cardboard signs in hope that at a traffic light, someone will toss loose change or perhaps a fresh sandwich their way.
And I am curious.
Everyone has a story rolls around in my thoughts like a rough stone being polished against small grains of sand.
I gather a crisp apple, a granola bar, and a bottle of water from home, and head back, pulling my car into a nearby parking lot. Making my way down the sidewalk toward the intersection, I push the pedestrian crossing button.
Why does this matter?
The light turns before I can talk myself out of crossing the lanes. Stopping at the long concrete meridian, where the seabag and a smaller knapsack are plopped near the curb, the sign holding woman paces up and down, hoping to make eye contact, hoping someone with an outstretched hand will offer a few coins to ease their conscience.
It is awkward. Seeing a need, but not sure what is helpful, or what is hurtful.
I hold out the food, introduce myself, and ask her permission to ask a few questions and snap a picture. She agrees.
Her name is Kim. She is 50 years old, one year younger than I am.
“When you were a little girl,” I asked. “What did you want to be when you grew up?”
“A nurse!” was her immediate response. “My grandma was a nurse. I wanted to be a nurse to help people.”
I stand aside as someone rolls down a window, a coin reflecting the afternoon light, and drops it into her extended hand.
“Sometimes things happen, things get hard.” She takes a deep breath. “I have been in and out of a few programs and have homeless for three years, but someday I hope to get back on track.”
Nodding her head, as if trying to convince herself, she offers a semi-toothless smile. “This is just a temporary setback.”
“What would you tell the next generation? The kids who are thinking about what they want to be when they grow up?” I asked.
“Stay in school,” she stated. “Even when you get discouraged, don’t give up.”
The light changed several times during our conversation and at one point she held up her sign and muttered, “We are the people that others don’t see.”
Extending my hand, we said our goodbyes.
Next time I see her, I will make it a point to make eye contact and call her by name.
Everyone has a story.