Several months ago, let’s say November, Ashley and I were driving home from church on a Sunday afternoon and I saw a woman pushing a cart full of garbage bags. She looked homeless, carrying her only possessions in the cart. I was very surprised to see her on the side road we were driving down at the edge of the city – most homeless people tend to stay downtown, close to the shelters. When I saw her my first instinct was to stop and help her somehow, to give her some money – but I immediately felt worried it would be awkward for me to stop my car, put it in reverse and get out and approach her. Not exactly a low key approach, now is it? As I kept driving down the road I wrestled with my conscience over this – and eventually ended up home a few minutes later. I confessed to Ashley that I wanted to help that lady, and that I was ashamed I hadn’t. She told me that the woman was more or less a “regular” down that road, that she saw her now and then going to and from work. I vowed that the next time I saw her I’d stop and do something to help. Months passed, and I never saw her again – and, in truth, I eventually forgot about her (to my shame).
On Monday night of this week, Ashley and I loaded up our car with five bags of cans and bottles for recycling – we always find it a bit of a hassle to drive down to the bottle recyling place, wait 10-20 minutes in line, and only get $30 for it. We recycle for environmental, not monetary reasons (like almost everyone I imagine), so we usually leave it until we’re tripping over garbage bags full of cans and bottles and have no choice. We always hope the local boy scouts will stop by on a Saturday so we can give them all of it, but they haven’t come around since last year. At any rate, we decided to drive to a bottle recycling station that was a bit further away, but more convenient to get to – and because it was new, we hoped there wouldn’t be any lines.
We arrived only five minutes before closing, and when I came in carrying three garbage bags I sighed in relief at seeing only one woman dropping off her cans because it meant we wouldn’t have to wait in line (Ashley and I have a problem being patient waiting in line you see). I opened up the bags and started to dump out the cans and bottles – as I was doing so I looked over at the women who had just dropped off her cans and was at the window waiting for her money. She was clearly homeless, and immediately I knew what to do – I walked over and asked her if she’d like to have all of our cans and bottles. She smiled and said “Yes, thank you so much” and I said “You’re welcome”. I finished emptying out the next bag and she came over to wait while they sorted through it. She thanked me again, and Ashley and I left.
As we were walking out to the car, Ashley said “Do you know who that lady was? She’s the one you passed on the road last year and wanted to help – and now you have.” I stopped dead and gave Ashley an incredulous look – what were the odds that we’d see her at that place, at that time five minutes before closing, on that day, at a bottle depot we’d never been to before? Stack those odds together and you end up with a very long shot. In that moment I knew it was a God thing, a designed moment in time. I have no illusions that us giving her a few bottles changed her life, but if a small act of kindness from a stranger made her day a little brighter, then it’s a step in the right direction.