I was having one of those days.
You know, one of those suddenly-your-world-is-reeling-and-you-wonder-if-everything-you-do-is-meaningless kind of days.
I found myself staring at my computer, taking deep breaths and willing myself to think good thoughts. Instead, I felt a rising panic-mixed-with-frustration welling up inside of me and threatening to explode.
I took a deep breath in...a deep breath out...and promptly grabbed my wallet for an emergency Diet Dr. Pepper run (because I can no longer in good conscience drink my old standby since the company is morally disgusting).
As I trudged across the street to the vending machine, my thoughts raced.
What am I doing with my life anyway? Where am I going? I have no direction. None. Am I wasting my life away? Oh crap. I'm wasting my life away! ...Don'tfreakoutdon'tfreakoutdon'tfreakout I'M FREAKING OUT...Why am I making a big deal about this? I mean, sure, I'd love to do something "worthwhile" and "meaningful" and "pursue world peace" blahblahblah, but let's be honest. Can I really do anything beneficial from my little windowless cubicle in Kansas? Ugh. Such a Debbie Downer...Maybe I just need some caffeine. That's it. Okay caffeine and maybe some chocolate. Okay caffeine and DEFINITELY some chocolate...and then maybe--
"'S'cuse me, does anybody have a few quarters to spare?"
Startled, I looked up.
A middle-aged woman slouched unassumingly before me in the entrance of the cafeteria, a shabby black duffel bag slung over her shoulders.
"I just was needing some food is all," she said apologetically.
I glanced around.
Streams of people were milling about in all directions. Heads down. Arms crossed. Eyes anywhere but on her.
"Hmm-mmm, nope, no change," said the woman to my left, her heels clicking confidently as she strode away.
"Uhhh, no. Nope. Sorry," a gruff bearded man replied and ambled down the hall.
She looked at me.
Without thinking, I began shaking my head sympathetically and stepped closer to the vending area.
Mid-step, by face flushed with shame.
For while my purse was empty, in my hand I tightly held one crisp dollar bill.
I tried to argue with myself.
But this is the only dollar I have! And I have had such a crappy day...the caffeine is so close I can almost taste it! I must have it! Lord knows I deserve it!
And I mean, how am I supposed to know what she will really spend this on? Sure, I would love to sit with her and buy her some food and hear about her life. But I need to get back to work! And if I just gave this money to her, well, she could take it and spend it on anything! It could very well be contributing to some vicious cycle! So really, I'd be part of the problem.
And anyway, it's just a dollar! One measly dollar. It wouldn't do much. I'm sure someone else will help her.
Then I recalled the countless conversations I had this past year about social justice. I remembered the passion and vigor with which we had all proclaimed our dedication to working towards this greater good. I heard the sermons echoing in my head about living for "the least of these."
And then I saw the face of the weathered man begging for change who I pass every Tuesday on my way to class. And I remembered all too quickly that icky, squirmy feeling I always got when I was stuck at the red light for too long. And he'd look at me. And I'd look anywhere but at him. And then drive away as quickly as possible.
And as I stood staring at the dollar squeezed in my clenched fist, something finally connected.
This moment--this tiny speck of a segment in time--I had a choice.
I could choose to see the woman in front of me. I could choose to recognize her presence and value her life as much--or maybe someday, even more--than my own. I could choose to believe that we truly are equal. I could choose to see her humanity.
Or, I could choose to walk away. I could choose to dismiss her, to write her off, to give myself the freedom of excuses. To snuggle into a cocoon of ambivalence or perhaps even resentment towards those in need. I could choose myself above all.
I dashed breathlessly into the hallway, searching frantically, desperately for this hungry woman. I saw no one.
Crestfallen, I turned to walk away when suddenly, I saw her shuffling slowly around the cafeteria.
And as I met her gaze, my fingers slowly uncurled into a small, uncertain wave.
Note: I want to be clear that I do not believe giving money is the best answer in combating tough world issues. However, I do believe that our eyes are closed to the small ways in which we can make a positive impact on the world around us even in our day to day life. For me, this was one of those times.