Editor: This post has received a lot of attention recently, so we decided to bring it back up.
By Shirley Sprinkles, Ph.D
She handed me a five dollar bill through the car window, then turned and walked away. I don’t know her name, nor where she was going—the encounter was so brief—but I know I will never forget that lady stranger who generously saved me from a lot of frustration and prevented me from walking a mile or more to my destination. The scene was a downtown public parking lot. My husband, Leo, and I were already a half hour late for a statewide conference on the status of African American families and children. (CSAAFC). We had taken the wrong fork in the expressway, and found ourselves deadlocked in traffic that was backed up for four miles due to a serious accident. I told Leo to go the other way, but he didn’t. . .
When we finally were able to exit, we tried to find parking in the designated free garages and lots near the hosting hotel. But, by now, they were all full. Not expecting this, neither of us had brought change; all we had was a twenty dollar bill. When we did find some space in a lot two blocks away from the conference, we were unable to pay the automated box for our slot; we needed five dollars. There was, handily, an ATM that charged $4.50 to get change for a twenty. But, there was no guarantee that there would be a five spot; we might have gotten just two tens for change. That wouldn’t have helped the situation. Besides, $4.50 just seemed like highway robbery. I wasn’t willing to pay it. We asked several people approaching the pay box if they could change a twenty. “No”, “No”, “No” were their answers. So, dejected, we walked back to our car, got inside, and started to back out. We were going to look for a spot on the street that would take coins. A quest that would surely have taken us a longer distance away.
Just then, one of the people we had spoken with tapped on the window on the passenger side. It was a short, medium-built Caucasian woman, who was all bundled up in jacket and scarf, wearing jeans and those flat fur-lined boots. Startled, I was reluctant, at first, to roll the window down. What could she possibly want? I lowered the window gingerly to keep the frigid air out, but cracked it just enough to hear what the woman had to say. Through the cracked window, she shoved a five dollar bill. “I don’t have change,” she said, “but here is an extra five dollar bill. Use it to pay for your parking spot.” I was floored! Was this woman, whom I’d never seen before, actually giving me this much money? Yes, that was exactly what she was doing! She wouldn’t take the check I offered her for the cash. She just walked away.
Since that day, I’ve been unable to get that scene out of my head. I tell the story everywhere I go. Though it is a simple tale, its significance is huge. Hers was a random act of kindness that touched my heart deeply. It caused me to ponder how many times I’ve passed up opportunities to help someone out. We were not poor, nor were we begging for a handout; just change for our twenty dollar bill. We certainly didn’t expect someone to freely fork over the cost of our parking slot. But, we were just as compromised in that moment as if we were penniless—we needed something that our money (or lack thereof) couldn’t buy.
The incident reminded me of a story my mother once told me of a stranger she met in a grocery store in Tucson, AZ. The two women struck up friendly conversation and chatted freely as they browsed through the aisles shopping for food. By the time they reached the check-out counter, they had shared quite a bit. While waiting to check out, Mom told the woman, who was also Caucasian, about sadness that she was experiencing in her life. The lady offered her comforting words that were laced with scriptures. Then, out of the blue, she handed my mother an envelope. Mom didn’t know what was in the envelope until she opened it at home. It contained ten twenty dollar bills. The woman was gone, and Mom had no way to thank her for her awesome kindness. As it turned out, it was the exact amount Mother needed to leave an abusive husband and move to California. She took that action as soon as she could. The very next week she packed her car, moved to California, and never looked back. From there the rest is history. Mother’s life took off to higher heights. She grew socially and emotionally, prospered, and helped many others during the rest of her life.
I believe that these “random acts” are really not so random. I believe they are well-placed reminders of our purpose—to befriend each other, and to share our blessings generously. I will not forget what happened to me in that parking lot. My plan is to keep some change in my possession so I can “give forward.” Someone I will meet by chance will need a helping hand. I want it to be mine.