Sometime in December of 2013 I lost ten dollars from my pocket. It was going to be my lunch money to enjoy the little half hour I had for my retail job of that year during the busy holiday season. This year the luck only shortened, having lost a public transportation card preloaded with sixty dollars onto it for a week’s worth of train commute into San Francisco. It fell out of my pocket as I mindlessly fumbled my hands around in my pockets as I went shopping, browsing, the stores downtown with my sister.
I’m mostly mad that the sixty bucks left put me back on my personal Christmas budget by a lot. But, not for the presents I can’t buy for family, not for scrambling enough change to get those frivolous supplies for the crafting party I had planned for that coming Sunday of Christmas week, not for Happy Hours after work on a Tuesday to celebrate the end of work for only a few days. It was about these things, and then it wasn’t anymore.
A few days after the misfortune my parents came out to San Francisco to meet me and my sister for a beautiful dinner after we got off work. We were finally going to the lovely Thai restaurant right on the Embarcadero overlooking the Ferry Building and a busy ice rink. But it wasn’t all lovely, not with being sat right behind a speaker blasting soft techno and the dim lights against low ceilings that gave me a headache throughout the whole meal. I didn’t say anything to not bring down the mood, but I hadn’t any clue that my dad’s mood was already dampened long before our family dinner began.
He avoids coming into the city if can help it. He hates driving here and he’s very suspicious of crooks in a big city like here, especially when his two daughters are freely walking around it. But tonight when we were home, he told me the one reason I already knew. And it had to do with a child.
He saw the same little girl I always do, usually my commute going back home and down the escalators into the BART station. Her mom is standing right there with a little sign made from a newspaper and she doesn’t say anything really, just smiles. The little girl is in a stroller. By now I’ve numbed myself to look sad at the sight of her– but do nothing. I haven’t carried change lately and I am so eager to just jump the next train home to think twice. When my dad described her again, that was enough. Together we talked and we began to feel like the worst people in the world.
First off, I never used to be numb. I can’t stand the empty resolution for anyone homeless to “find a job” or “get off the addiction” or whatever you may say to justify not even a dollar given. I haven’t carried around change lately, but I used to, and that’s the worst. It’s just been easier for me not to do so, and now I suffer the regret of not doing my part, as little as it is, to get someone back on their feet, or just restore a bit of faith in humanity. And now for this one child, I found out that the dinner wasn’t so great. Not so great now that my family could still afford to have a dinner out and not being able to give back to those not so fortunate.
If I had my sixty dollars, now, in a heartbeat I’d go out and get her a present. No matter how you feel about homelessness, no child should have to suffer it. No matter how they got there, it’s never the fault of a child. But I have nothing left to give– nothing new, at least. I decided to do what I could given the circumstances. Taking from my closet the best and biggest stuffed animals– from childhood and past Valentine’s Days or Easter where the toy was just a filler to a basket given to me by my parents– I made sure they were in only the most mintest condition to be wrapped up in big Macy*s bags and stuffed with tissue and tied off with frilly ribbon and a candy cane. It wasn’t much to give, but if it looked the part, I was going to find children downtown to dole out these little things I had once treasured.
With my luck, I did not see anyone at the station escalators the next day– yesterday. I expected that to happen, because life works in mysterious ways, usually to make you feel worse about yourself, but I wasn’t feeling defeated. I walked through the whole station and up back to the streets of downtown again, and still no luck. But there just a block away, a young woman sitting beneath a dead tree and with a little girl asleep in her arms, about four years old. This wasn’t the same woman or girl. New faces yes, but still a sad, familiar sight. I walked over and presented my gifts with a smile. I can’t really recall what I said as I was awkward and didn’t want to embarrass the mother anymore than I already was. I’ll only share her simple and kind words that matter, anyhow,
I didn’t find the mother and child I’d encounter many times. Who I did give my little gifts to were not the right people I had in mind. But they mattered just the same to me– they helped me to not forget about them, anyone in need and on a last limb looking for just a glimmer of hope during the holidays. I’m glad I could give more than that, but still I’m saddened all I had to give was an old toy.
This Christmas I lost sixty dollars. A lesson to learn is to always check your pockets. And if you find lose change, make it count. Make someone smile, and that’s something you can surely never lose sight of.