She was bent over double, head, shoulders and arms in the gas station trashcan. I assumed she was one of the local homeless folks, so when I’d parked to fill the tank, I dug out a bill for her.
She had moved to another trashcan by then and bent herself double again. Unable to see more than her lower half, I felt a little uncertain, so I gently said, “Good morning.” She unfolded herself out of the trashcan and when her head was free—wispy gray hair poking out beneath a brown knit cap—she returned my greeting.
“Can you use a bit of help?” I asked, offering the bill.
“Oh, no! I don’t take no money! No no NO!”
She paused. “You have compassion,” she said. “That shows you have Jesus in your heart. But Jesus died for our sins, not for money.”
It was my turn to pause. She was a tiny woman, well under five feet. A flat, wrinkled face and nearly toothless mouth—she could have been anything over 60. Bright eyes, though. She wore a shabby brown coat over a few layers of non-descript shirts. The only color in her outfit was the gold in the striped, heavy socks that folded above her ankles. Nevertheless, she was not in rags. Her missing teeth made her speech difficult and she spoke very fast. She went on talking, dignified and insistent. It was, I gathered, mostly about Jesus. It may have been the most urgent sermon I’ve ever heard.
Then, “I get along… a little pension… a little room…I do this,” she pointed to the trashcan, “’cause I get 90 cents a pound for cans. So I got a little to give people livin’ on the street. Jesus said we should take care of each other, right? And He’s coming back to check on us! That’s” – and her meanings were lost in her own eagerness.
I understood little, but her attitude radiated self-respect. She stood erect, her eyes intense and her words flowing like a stream in spring. As she talked, she grew happier, until she broke into a “hallelujah” song, unfamiliar to me but decidedly joyful.
I guessed she might go on all day, so I moved away. She waved as she sang, as if to speed me along. I offered only, “God bless you!” and a silent prayer for her. Driving off, I mused that, differences notwithstanding, I might have just been given a lesson or two in befriending the soul.