By: ParentFurther Editor, Jennifer Jolly
Last week ParentFurther’s Program Manager, Mary Margaret shared her big lesson of 2011 on the ParentFurther blog. This week, Editor, Jennifer Jolly shares her own life lesson with us. Read Jennifer’s Christmas Miracle story now! >
Can one person change a life? I believe so. Think of the kid who majored in English because a certain high school journalism teacher showed her how to love Thoreau, or the young man who chooses to practice basketball on Saturday mornings instead of attending Friday night parties because his coach has convinced him that he has a shot at a full college scholarship. We see it happening every day, but we often don’t realize it has happened until the moment has passed.
I believe that there are many ways in which people can change lives. Sometimes the life-changing “moment” happens over time, and sometimes it happens at a “fork-in-the-road” juncture. But the really special and rarest-of-all, life-changing moments are those that, when they occur, you know they are happening, and it feels like the world has stopped turning, and a spotlight has been shined on you. What’s happening is so important, the universe doesn’t want you to miss it.
Last week, I experienced one of those moments—the first in my own life. It happened on a busy street in the business district of downtown Minneapolis on an unseasonably warm December afternoon. In fact, it was raining that day, which is unheard of in this part of the country during this time of year. I must have sensed the serendipity in the air because I got off my bus a stop earlier than I normally do. I continued to hurry down the city sidewalk in my usual way, absorbed in my own world, paying little mind to the people around me.
And then it happened.
I passed a man holding a cardboard sign; I noticed him out of my peripheral vision. My instinct led me to continue walking past him, but in that instant, I did something I don’t normally do. I hesitated, stopped, and remembered, “I have cash in my wallet today.”
I turned abound and walked a few feet back to the man and began to reach into my wallet to hand him a couple of dollars. We made eye contact, smiled, and he stepped forward to take the money out of my hand. But just as I was about to put my wallet back into my bag, he spoke, “Hold on one minute! I need you to hold this for a minute. I want to try something,” he said. He shoved the ragged, wet cardboard sign into my arms and backed away—arms crossed, a big grin on his face.
And there I was. Dumbfounded. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk with a cardboard sign in my hands, staring at the man who had just made the universe pause.
Looking back, I realize that I could have chosen one of two paths at this very moment. I could have ditched the sign and walked off, or I could have done what I did do, and continue to stand there, holding this man’s sign, and living in the moment.
As I stood there, reality rushed back to me, I suddenly felt very self-aware. Though the people walking past me weren’t even looking at me, I felt like all eyes were on me. I looked down at the cardboard sign in my hands and read the message that had been scrawled on it in bold, black ink, “Homeless Any Help Please Merry Christmas”. I looked back at the man who was watching me intently, and held his gaze for what seemed like an eternity.
“Nobody’s stopping,” I said. “Nobody’s even looking at me.”
I walked back to him and handed the sign back. “Sir, nobody is giving me any money. How do you do it all day long?” I asked.
“This is what I do every day,” he said. “Feel my jacket. It’s wet. I’ve been standing here for hours and you’re the first one to even look at me.”
Then I started crying. Typical. I cry at commercials, movies, puppies, and especially when my heart breaks for another human being.
“Don’t cry,” he said. “Hold on.” He reached into his duffel bag and pulled out a small red and black patchwork quilt. It was in pretty good shape save the bold, black ink stain in the bottom corner—from the marker in his bag, no doubt.
He unfolded the neatly wrapped blanket, and swathed it around my shoulders. “Here,” he said. “I want you to have this.”
“Oh no, I can’t take this from you, Sir,” I objected. “You need this! It’s going to get cold tonight.”
“No, I insist,” he said. “Take this blanket, wrap it around your tree, and keep it.“Remember to teach your kids about giving. Remember to teach them to give and not want during the holidays.”
I didn’t want to take the blanket, but I knew he wasn’t going to let me leave without it. So, I carefully folded it back and stuffed it into my bag.
As I began to walk away, I turned to take one final look at the man. “Sir, I didn’t catch your name,” I called to him.
“I’m Mr. Peabody,” he said. “It’s very nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you too,” I replied.
And as I walked away, I felt the strangers on the street smiling at me, I felt a bit less self-aware, and a little more deserving to have been gifted the moment I had just lived.