Thursday September 19th, 2013 – Chicago, IL
I think I spent the single best dollar I’ve ever spent today. I had a few stops to make in Chicago and one of them happened to be near where I used to live in Andersonville near Clark and Foster. I really enjoyed my time there, but the neighborhood changed quite a bit and rents skyrocketed.
It’s one of THE most diverse neighborhoods I have ever been to much less lived. It’s where the Swedish of Chicago first called home, and there’s still some Swedish influence remaining today including delicious restaurants and a museum. There’s also a large gay population which brings a lot more outstanding restaurants. There are some rough areas nearby, and that brings riff raff too.
It does provide an entertaining mix if nothing else, and I had some time so I walked around on Clark Street to enjoy the show. There’s never a shortage of unique humanity to gawk at, and on a sunny summer day they’re all out. I wasn’t disappointed as I made my way north from Foster St.
As I approached a McDonald’s, I couldn’t help but notice an old woman desperately asking all who passed her for money. I don’t know how else to describe her but one of the ugliest humans I have seen up close in a long time. I don’t claim to be any dreamboat sexpot, but she had a whole face full of ugly going on. She was striking, but not in the good way. Everyone was avoiding her.
My grandfather and I used to take walks when I was a small child, and he’d tell me there were homeless people and there were flat out bums – and there was a big difference. He couldn’t stand bums, as they were just looking for a free ride. Homeless people were an entirely different story.
Gramps told me the sure way to always tell if someone was a bum or really in need was to look them straight in the eye. “You’ll know immediately,” he said. “Desperation doesn’t lie. It will be in their eyes, and you’ll know it when you see it. Always take time to help whenever you can.”
This woman today was a total mess. She looked to be in her 70s, and who knows what sad tale of woe left her in this way? Her clothing was ragged and smelled like she’d just finished a rodeo, and her teeth barely numbered in the single digits. Her skin resembled a well worn catcher’s mitt.
As I got closer to the McDonald’s, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to avoid her pitch. She had persistence if nothing else, and all the rejection she got didn’t seem to bother her. I couldn’t help but see her face as she got a foot from mine and started wheezing her way through her sales pitch asking me for money. She was slow and stammering, and it took her a long time to muster it up.
What those others didn’t hear was, yes she wanted money…to buy a chicken sandwich. They’d long passed before she could get to that part, and she had no takers. I told her I wouldn’t give her money, but if she wanted a chicken sandwich I’d buy her one. That’s when the magic happened.
I saw that look in her eye that Gramps had talked about, and I could tell she was definitely not faking. When I told her I’d buy her that sandwich, her entire face lit up like that giant Christmas tree they decorate at the White House every year. I can’t remember ever feeling such a dynamic pulsating energy of pure and unadulterated gratitude in all my life. It made me step back a little, as it completely took me by surprise. Her entire countenance changed in barely a few seconds.
She was no longer the prune faced old lady that looked like Alice the Goon from the Popeye cartoons I watched as a kid. I felt a beam of spiritual light emanate from her and I gazed into the deepest part of her soul. I can’t explain it other than I felt a very real jolt of energy in that instant.
I asked if she wanted to eat inside the restaurant or if she wanted me to bring her the sandwich to eat outside. She followed me inside, and when we walked in I could feel every eye in the place staring as she limped her way to the counter behind me. It made me feel totally uncomfortable.
Apparently they had kicked her out of the McDonald’s more than once, and the manager came out from behind the counter to shoo her out once again. I told the manager I was going to buy the lady her chicken sandwich, and we’d both be gone in a minute. He was satisfied with that answer and instructed a counter person to take the order. Everybody in the restaurant was still gawking.
I asked the woman if she wanted anything else, and she shook her head no. All she wanted was a chicken sandwich, but I felt like buying her one of everything on the entire menu. I don’t know when she last had a meal of any kind, but if she wanted a chicken sandwich she’d surely get one.
She sat down at a table, and I watched as she gummed that sandwich with the few teeth she had left. It looked like a comedy sketch Carol Burnett would have done, but she had a look of content on her face as if she was eating the most expensive lobster on the menu at the finest restaurant.
Gramps was right – desperation can’t be faked. She needed that sandwich. This woman has had a rough go in life – a whole lot rougher than most of us ever have to face - and if all it took was a chicken sandwich to make her feel that good, count me in. She might have smelled a little ripe on the outside, but inside there was a whole lot going on there. That energy I felt was unmistakable.
As I watched her gulp down her sandwich, I tried to think of any time in my life when I was as hungry as she must have been and I drew a total blank. I’ve seen some troubled times of my own for sure, but nothing close to what must have put her in this bad of shape. My problems are zilch.
She finished the rest of the sandwich, and I asked if she wanted anything else. She again shook her head no and gave me a giant beaming sincere smile of gratitude that laid me out emotionally. It might have been short of teeth, but there was a major punch packed with her pure gratitude.
There didn’t need to be many words spoken. I felt her raw spirit, and it was a sweet one. There was a lot more to this person than that frightening outer appearance, and it felt like I was touched by a being of higher vibration than usual. I know it sounds goofy, but I can’t make any of this up.
I’m not bringing this up to try and pump myself up by what a wonderful guy I am for buying a homeless person a sandwich. I got a lot more out of her than she got from me. There was a very real and vibrant spirit inside her that I can’t remember being able to see so clearly in a stranger at any time in my life. Maybe it was a coincidence, but it sure felt like it was much more than that.
I was going to snap her picture with my phone, but decided against it. I thought she’d suffered enough, and didn’t want to make her more of a freak show. I don’t know why this happened, but I won’t soon forget it. If nothing else, I made Gramps proud. It was the best dollar I ever spent.
|The best dollar I ever spent.|