It’s hard not to see her.
We’re stopped at a gas station on one of the crowded avenues in San Francisco.
I watch her as she digs bare-handed through the garbage can. I see her dirt filled fingernails pull out empty plastic water bottles. She shakes out the water, dirt, or whatever else is in them, and stashes them in a plastic bag that is tied to a big stick she holds over her shoulder.
She has mismatched layers on. Flannels, I think. Her hair looks like it hasn’t been washed for months.
Honestly, she is a spectacle.
“Maybe we should give her something?” I say to the kids, feeling sad for her. They are sitting in the car with me, trying to stay warm, as my husband is filling the tank with gas.
My husband gets into the car. A gush of cold air comes in with him.
Brrr. I shiver in my down jacket. (We travel to San Francisco every winter holiday, but it is still so hard to get used to the chill!)
“Why does she want a plastic bottle?” my son asks.
“Well, it’s probably worth five cents,” my husband says. He starts the engine.
I reach in my purse.
But just as I do, a man, perhaps the gas station attendant, storms towards this woman. His arms moving wildly. He is furiously shouting at her. To our shock, he shoves her off his property, with no more regard than one would have for a filthy rodent.
It seems this is not the first time this woman has been in his trash can.
“That’s not right for him to shove her! We have to call the cops!” my 10-year-old son exclaims.
“Hurry! Try to find her, Daddy!” all three kids urge.
By the time our car rolls onto the crowded street, the woman is far down the sidewalk, her bobbing stick quickly disappearing in the distance.
She is out of sight.
Though not out of mind.
In a city where even the most unassuming home is still worth at least a million, there is a woman scrounging in the trash for a mere nickel.
And isn’t this the painful irony of life?
What we toss off is someone else’s treasure.
Desires, longings, needs… they are so real. They are understandable. Some our very breath depends on.
But with this new year, contentment is at the top of my list – not a complacency to stop striving, praying or hoping for more, but a gratitude for what is already in my care and a trust that God sustains.
However, contentment can’t exist without perspective.
And when I think about it, it’s perspective that I so often lack.
But this woman, her fleeting, disturbing, graceful presence gives me a much needed glimpse.
To remind myself when my heart beats hard and the day is long, someone needs five cents and carries her possessions on a stick.
And there is always something in our lives that has value. Always.
In fact, it’s the one, in a life that somehow leaves us forever wanting and constantly postponing joy, who courageously embraces what she has now… who is free to live her days most filled.
What word do you hope to reflect your new year? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 🙂
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. ~ Philippians 4:11-13