Over the weekend I was adventuring in the East Bay, and exiting the freeway I saw this forty something year old woman holding a sign asking for help. Desperately looking left trying to read her story, my car was turning right, and all I read was "two children."
As I drove away, I imagined looping back and parking the car on a nearby street. Parker and I would walk over to her as she stood at the corner and I would ask her if I could take her to Costco down the street. She would be a little hesitant, but then agree. We would drive over to Costco a few blocks away, and I'd whip out my my Costco card - and then slowly push this giant cart beside her as I would ask her what her family needed. Weaving in and out of the aisles, we'd get a rotisserie chicken, packs of frozen chicken, dozens of eggs, and some fresh and frozen vegetables, frozen food for dinner, and then some books and school supplies. It would be maybe one hundred or a hundred and fifty dollars, and last them two weeks or so. We'd fill the trunk of the car while Parker would be going berserk, barking at this stranger so close to his territory. I'd drive her home, and we'd pull up to this run down tan colored two bedroom house with an unkept yard and a low metal fence surrounding it.
Doing some rough math, I figured the money I purposely didn't spend on frivolous things over the last few weeks, I could use to help this woman out in a squeeze.
Instead, I found myself doing nothing.
A few times I hesitated and almost turned around, but my plan was to take Parker to the dog park, go to Target, and then meet someone for dinner. That Costco trip would have probably brought me right up to dinnertime, and I probably would have been late. What was weird was that I could see all of that happening. The Costco trip. The nervous excitement of approaching her asking her to get in my car.
I'm disappointed in myself because it felt so real, and yet I decided to do nothing. And I'm not saying I couldn't have - because I definitely could have. However I made the conscious decision not to deviate, and continued the path that I was on.
The following day I watched "The Waiting Room" (2012) which was a documentary of an emergency room in Oakland, California. Not only was it eye opening to how broken and insufficient the US healthcare system is, but it also showed that even when people are their most vulnerable - whether they be in pain, or injured, or a family member, it's really difficult to get help.
Some of these individuals had lost their jobs and were worried about being able to pay their child'd medical bills. Some were working, but had chronic injuries making it difficult to work. Or maybe they were just in pain, and they have to wait hours or days to see a doctor. And even the doctors who want to help these people are limited by bureaucracy, paperwork, processes, inefficiencies, etc.
Watching this documentary made me furious with the system, but also made me feel extremely grateful. Grateful for my health, employment status, current resources. My life.
I started thinking about how I am giving back to society - if I am at all. Am I giving back as much as I am taking? Or even better, giving back more? Suddenly I am reminded of that "Give and Take Bowl" I saw a few months ago at the Exploratorium.
Call me an idealist, but what if I was able to help one person a day. The person could be a friend, a family member, a stranger. What if a group of people decided to each help one person a day - or once a week, or once a month. Give someone an hour of your time. Your Saturday. Just wait a few seconds, and the door open. Listen.
Recently I've been so focused on reducing my environmental impact, however I haven't been thinking enough about making a social impact. So I'm going to be the change I wish to see, and do less talking and do more doing.