A homeless woman's gift
‘You can’t take money from a homeless person!’ he exclaimed. ‘Here,’ he said, taking a dollar bill out of his wallet, ‘give her this dollar.’
Note: The following story first appeared in the Tribune, July 18, 2005, one week after Sharon Ostman was found murdered in San Luis Creek. The story was later recognized by the online publication, In Character, as one of the best editorials that year on human virtue. This month Stacey Warde will attend a ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to be honored for the story he wrote about Sharon, whose murder remains unsolved.
A homeless woman’s gift
No matter how poor, we can always offer a blessing
By Stacey Warde
With no money in my pocket, less than $200 in the bank, and feeling a little bleak, I recently pleaded hardship to a homeless woman asking for a dollar in front of the post office.
“I’m sorry, but you’re probably better off than I am right now,” I said. I climbed into the passenger’s side of the car, parked next to the curb.
“Oh,” she said with concern, “would you like a dollar?”
I didn’t really know what to say, but felt so good about her offer, I laughed.
“No, thank you,” I said, warmed by her generosity. “I’m sure I’ll be okay.” I smiled at the woman as she sat on the bench next to her various cardboard signs expressing need, hoping that I really would be okay.
With little prospect of steady employment, and only a few sporadic cash jobs to squeak by, I didn’t know if I was going to be okay or not.
Sharon Ostman’s genuine concern made me feel I might.
She got up from her place on the bench, and came up to the window on the passenger’s side of the car.
“Here,” she said, handing me a beautiful shiny gold dollar coin, featuring the Shoshone mother with child, Sacagawea.
“She’s one of my ancestors,” Sharon continued. “Give it to a child, if you like.”
“Thank you,” I said, grateful and delighted. I examined the gold coin as she went back to her place on the bench.
Sacagawea’s youthful face, head turned and baby strapped to her back, peered over her shoulder, expressed calmness and confidence. Her image suggested forward movement.
Had it not been for Sacagawea, it’s said, the historic Lewis and Clark expedition to the Northwest (1804-1806) would have failed. She was smart, resourceful and diplomatic.
None of that really mattered to me at the moment. I was more enthralled with the coin’s gold brilliance, and the homeless woman who gave it to me. I also basked in the kindness she had just shown me.
My companion, with whom I had washed windows that morning to earn some much-needed cash, seemed aghast. He didn’t recognize Sacagawea.
“Is that a Susan B.?” he gasped. “Is that a silver dollar?” he added with emphasis on the “dollar.”
“No, Bob, it’s a gold coin. Susan B.’s not gold.”
“You can’t take money from a homeless person!” he exclaimed. “Here,” he said, taking a dollar bill out of his wallet, “give her this dollar.”
“What do you mean I can’t take her dollar? Are you kidding? That was pure generosity,” I responded.
She saw the exchange in the car and returned to the passenger’s side and stooped down as I passed the thin paper dollar bill into her hand.
“Thank you,” she said.
And we were off.
Since then, I’ve been much less stingy with my spare change, even when I don’t have much to spare. What does it hurt?
Actually, I feel so much better extending my hand to pad a homeless person’s pocket than I do refusing to offer anything.
Until I met Sacagawea’s descendant in front of the post office, I had grown sour with my own bleak circumstances, living hand to mouth, and with bums who wanted to take what little I had.
I’ve heard stories of homeless people standing by the side of busy freeway exits, raking in dollar bills and larger from rush-hour commuters.
“Those guys make more money than I do,” a friend once said. “They pull in as much as $50,000 a year.”
“Right on!” I responded. “It’s not the way I want to make a living, but if they can do it, more power to them.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking: What’s the difference between the homeless woman at the post office and me? Not much, really, except her kindness and generosity.
I want to be more like her.
I feel better when I’m willing to give than when I’m hoarding what little I have.
And in this day, when the predominant “business” models taught in the university are little more than methodologies of greed, it’s revolutionary to give.
In that sense, Sharon Ostman revolutionized my thinking and my connection to people in the street. I have nothing to fear, and no need to respond with anger, when I’m willing to give.
And I don’t need to buy into the greed and blind hunger rampant in our culture. All of the great spiritual treatises and traditions we cherish point to a different path anyhow. A few seem to truly follow that path, like Sharon at the post office.
I’ve learned that no matter how little we have, we always have the option to bestow a gift, a blessing. In my mind, that’s the best and highest good we can pursue in this life.
Thank you, Sharon, for blessing me. §
Stacey Warde is editor of The Rogue Voice. Anyone with information that will help solve Sharon’s murder can contact the San Luis Obispo Police Department’s 24-hour hotline at 805.783.7800 or CRIMESTOPPERS at 805.549.STOP (805.549.7867).
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