She stopped me as I was getting into the minivan. “Could you spare some change, Ma’am?” I fished in my purse for my wallet. My nervous energy consumed me and without looking at the clock I knew it read 7:02pm. We were already late for our appointment. We were half finished with our photo shoot, and moving to a second location. My clients sat in their minivan across from me, watching this woman with her curly, greasy hair. Fifty yards away stood a man who looked at us longingly as if we were a mirage.
She shifted her weight and I realized she was wearing a heavy coat. After an hour and a half of walking around the city, my t-shirt and jeans were damp with my own sweat. I handed her the wadded up $10 bill that had been stashed in my wallet. I’d planned on using it for dinner after the session. Instead I could use my debit card. I certainly wouldn’t be resorting to cooking after this photo shoot. Much less going hungry.
She held the money between her hands as if she were praying. Her eyes were dark with pain and pleading. “Are you a photographer? Do you need an assistant? I have some experience. And I’m a fast learner. I could help you. Please. I need to make some money. We’re so tired of living on the streets.”
It was humbling. And for the first time in my sheltered life, I didn’t feel afraid, self-righteous or pitying . Instead I felt the weight of this situation. The economy seems so shaky these days. The words “there, but for the grace of God, go I” echoed audibly in my brain. The fear in her eyes reminded me of a child sinking in a swimming pool. Her words flailed like arms around her. And as much as I’d love to reach out to pull her up, I myself am afraid of falling in.
I drove away with my reply still ringing in my head. “I’m just a mom. I barely make any money at this photography stuff. I’m working a second job to pay the bills. I wish I could help you. But I can’t. Good luck. I hope you find your way.”
I felt like I’d thrown a cork to a drowning woman. But I didn’t have anything else to throw.