citylife…

Not long after we moved into the city a woman knocked on the door. I had seen her before, hanging out across the street with the neighbor dude, the one we now think is more than a little creepy.  She crossed the street, hands in her pockets. It was chilly out. She was wearing a light jacket, tee shirt and jeans. Her blondish graying hair was pulled back into a rough ponytail. She looked to be in her late  50’s.

So she knocked at the door and when I answered she told me she was a friend of the neighbor. I nodded, introduced myself. She asked if she could use my phone, that he didn’t have one, that her son was supposed to call her but never did and her cell phone died. We didn’t have a land line I said, but I offered to let her use my cell. I invited her to step into to the livingroom and handed her my phone.

She called her son, had a moment of yelling at him for not calling her.  Asked if he was going to pick her up. Yelled a little more and then hung up and handed me the phone. I shrugged and said, “Yeesh, kids, right?” and she chuckled then asked if I could lend her $10.

ack.

Okay so a couple of things. First off, I don’t like to meet people, or at least I’ll say that it’s hard for me to reach out and meet people. I thought I was actually meeting  a neighbor without really having to work at meeting a neighbor. I started this interaction already behind the 8 ball of social awkwardness.

Second, it’s been 5 years since I lived in the “city.” The last city I lived in was Chicago.  It took me years…years I say, to be open and not judging when meeting new people. In Chicago, you meet all kinda people and in Chicago you seriously CANNOT judge a book by it’s cover. 5 years in the “country” had undone a lot of the city person instinct training I’d accumulated in Chicago. Again, I was in a judgemental and suspicious place when she knocked at the door but I TRIED to be open minded.

I just have to ask this then…because I’m assuming it’s just because of my own limitation or judgement, my own lack of recent experience of being around city folk day in and day out…How does someone knock at  a new neighbor’s door and ask for $10?

My response to her request was a blank stare, maybe a confused look.

She explained that her son was supposed to pick her up but that he wasn’t going to pick her up so she needed $10 to try to get to her destination.

I may have nodded here and said, “Hm.”

This is where the friendly part of me left and was replaced by the paranoid part. Had she seen my laptop? Was she “casing” the joint? Would someone else come over and ask for money now? How do I handle it at this point? How do I get her outta my house without causing trouble.

She tried to explain that she’d pay me back or that her boyfriend could bring the money over in a few days. I nodded again.

“I’m sorry.” I finally said. “I don’t have any cash.”

And this was true. I never have cash on me. Ask my kids. I can’t be trusted with cash. It disappears out of my pocket and leaves no forwarding address.

She shook her head and looked at the floor.

“I’m embarrassed to ask you for it” she replied, eyes still on the floor.

In that moment, I believed her. I think she truly was embarrassed to ask. I don’t believe it was for the bus and I don’t know that I believe the story about her son but I do believe she was embarrassed.

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry I can’t help you” and I meant it.

My next instinct might have been to move into caretaking or problem solving but this feeling of resolve came over me and I decided against it. I moved toward the door and opened it for her. It was a clear message, not too unkind I hope, just direct.

She chuckled a little then and moved out the door to the porch. I held out my hand, “it was good to meet you” I said, “I’ll probably see you around.” She just waved as she walked away. She didn’t look back. I haven’t seen her since.

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2 thoughts on “citylife…

  1. This reminds me of so many encounters I had in Oak Park/Chicago. I long to be an openly generous person but I hate being “had.” One time on the el, I was with four-year-old Liam and a desperate-looking woman came over and told me her husband abuse story and how she hadn’t eaten all day. I offered her some of our lunch and then somehow she wheedled $20 bucks off of me. I thought I was doing a kind thing until she walked away and threw the lunch in the trash. It still makes me angry and, yet, I still want to believe that I am encountering Christ in every person in need (even the dishonest/selfish ones). This is a long way to say that I think in offering the phone (and compassion) but not the money, you did the right thing.

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