It had just started sprinkling. I was hurrying home in my car, anxious and stressed, having put off until the last minute writing a keynote speech I was to give the next day.
In my preoccupied state I barely registered the tiny woman walking along the shoulder of the busy coastal highway where I live. Carrying a baby in one arm and holding the hand of a small child in the other, she was not much bigger than the child walking next to her. Still at least a mile from town, neither she nor her children had any substantial clothing to protect them from the rain.
I knew I needed to stop and help her, but my mind said “this is not a good time, you absolutely need to get back and write this speech. Do it another time when you are less stressed. Surely someone else will come by and help her.”
Yet a quiet persistent voice said “this is what you must do. She is in a dangerous area with two small children and you are the one that needs to help her - now!“
As my practical brain continued to argue with my intuitive side, I found myself circling back around. I pulled over and asked if I could take her somewhere. With a deep look of gratitude she and her children piled in and we headed to town.
She said her name was Maria and was on the way to get her food stamps. She spoke little English and I spoke no Spanish, but somehow I gleaned that her husband was in jail, and that she had two more older children at home.
Despite her obviously dire circumstances she had a radiance that struck me profoundly. There was no hardness or bitterness in her beautiful face, just an open and loving innocence that pierced my soul.
I drove her to the place she indicated and said I would be back to pick her up in 30 minutes and to wait for me there. She nodded her head, tears of gratitude in her eyes.
Just a few blocks away was a Catholic charity that sold used clothing and household articles. I stopped in and asked if they had a baby buggy I could purchase. I had just given a ride to a woman walking into town with nothing to push her children in. The volunteer said they didn’t get them in often, but a wonderful Pram had just come in the night before. It was promised to someone else who hadn’t come and so she didn’t see why I couldn’t have it. It was mine for free as a part of their program to help those in need. She told me to bring Maria back and they would give her other clothing and household necessities as well. She would also sign her up with their ongoing program to provide food and shelter.
I will never forget the look on Maria’s face when I showed up with her beautiful new “Yuppie” Pram. My heart felt full and complete to be able to help this lovely young woman in this small but important way.
We went back to the charity for more items and had the time of our lives, trying on clothes like two girlfriends. She blushed and primped and acted like a grand dame in these cherished ‘hand-me-downs.’ We moved on to wardrobes for all of the children, me holding up possible choices and her nodding enthusiastically when it was the right thing, both giggling like children left alone in a candy store. We filled two large garbage bags, I loaded them in my car and connected Maria with the volunteer who could get her ongoing help.
In the middle of filling our third bag, there was a changing of the guard and a rather sour-looking volunteer arrived for the next shift. “You are only supposed to have one bag per customer” she grumbled. Her stiff, disapproving demeanor communicated her belief that this was sober business and we were having way too much fun! Maria’s infectious laughter propelled me into hopeless giggles, like children in church when something has set off your funny bone. We loaded up our last large bag, guiltily trying to contain our joy as we scurried out under the nose of the stony-faced “Miss Marple.”
Maria’s face from the minute I met her was one of utter guilelessness, like a child who believed that the world was a good and loving place. I marveled at how this beautiful young woman didn’t seem to show any traces from the obviously difficult life she had led.
I took Maria back to the trailer she was living in. Her children, wide-eyed and in disbelief, came out and took the haul from my car. Maria’s face glowed like that of an angel. She called me her angel. What she did not know was that she was mine.
For weeks afterward I felt absolutely euphoric. I pondered why I was the one that seemed to receive the greatest blessing from this encounter? It came to me that our soul feels euphoria when we are exactly in the right place at the right time, doing what it is we are supposed to do.
I don’t know what it meant for Maria, but I felt deeply connected to her life, as if I was instrumental in communicating to her soul some message she needed to receive. That if I had not done it I would have missed something important in the play of things that needed to take place. That it had something to do with the web of life and how we are all connected to each other. How, as on our beloved earth, everything from the smallest insect to the tallest tree must do what it was designed to do in order for it to work.
I received a powerful teaching that day. I saw that I did not have to save the world. I just needed to show up and do the things that appeared on my path each day. I learned that life unfolds in the moment and must be lived and acted upon in the moment, or a precious and possibly even life-changing opportunity can be lost forever. The challenge is to listen to that quiet voice and not the often-louder ones that declare all of the reasons why it is not a good or “practical” idea.
There are many angels in the world who do devote their lives to doing good. I am honored to say I have met many through Care2 who work tirelessly for important causes. But for the rest of us, if the world lived by this simple credo: if we all just showed up and did the thing that presented itself to us each day, we would have a very different world.
Please share with us your own experiences of kindnesses given and received.
Erica Sofrina is a motivational speaker, author and coach. She can be reached at www.ericasofrina.com