It was blank.
Staring at me through those blue eyes, she looked like a ghost. A very tan ghost.
I smiled and tried to look her in the eye, but her blank expression haunted me and I looked away quickly.
Later, as I unlocked my car and started piling bags of groceries inside, she slid up to me, out of nowhere. Maybe she really was a ghost.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” I said.
“I’ve fallen on hard times and I was wondering if you might have a few dollars to spare.”
Immediately I thought back to the previous Saturday night. My husband and I, our daughter, and her friend had all gone into the city for an evening at the theater. We arrived early so we sat in a nearby plaza to people-watch for a while. Most of the benches and tables were taken by the homeless, some sleeping, some chatting together, all on alert for something or someone.
As the four of us sat on a bench together soaking in a perfectly beautiful evening in the city, my husband took out his wallet and removed all of the single dollar bills he had.
I’ve seen him do this before; he wants to be ready if asked.
With Saturday night in mind and a ghost standing before me, I looked through my wallet for some money. I handed her the bills and said, “God bless you.”
“God bless you,” she said.
It didn’t seem like enough: a couple bucks and a “God bless you,” so I asked her, “Do you have a place to stay tonight?”
“Well, last night I slept at the table outside the Dominicks.”
My heart crumbled.
I chatted with her for a minute, asking if she knew about PADS (our local homeless shelter). She did. I asked if she knew where the shelter was going to be tonight. She did.
Then she took my empty cart and disappeared.
I thought about her as I drove home. I prayed for her. I wondered if I should have offered her a ride (pretty sure the answer to that one was yes).
And I thought about my husband, always ready with some bills when others would simply shrug off the everyday assaults of the city.
Some would even scorn those who would dare beg for money.
I’ve scorned. In my heart I know I have looked with disdain on those who don’t get a “real job.”
But for some reason, as I prayed for the woman who loves America but has fallen on hard times, I thought something else: she has as much right to receive mercy as I do.
It’s a hard choice, some days, to be a mercy-giver. We think people should earn it. We think that mercy belongs to people who look like us or who work as hard as we do or who believe the same things we believe.
We think we have a right to dispense mercy to those we judge deserving.
We think we have a right to judge. Period.
But mercy knows no color, no social standing, no economic importance.
Mercy just gives.