There was a woman dressed all in black standing on a street corner near the entrance to the subway. She is asking for pennies in Russian. Her age was indeterminate, but old. A babushka for sure. I do not know her circumstances but I can guess. She lived a hard life of deprivation under Soviet rule, always on the edge of being malnourished. Just when she needed the system the most, it went away. She was probably living in a small apartment with two bed rooms, a common room, and a kitchen. In that space likely lived at least one of her children, their spouse, and children. If not more.
Her pension, what of it there would have been, was stolen by men who grabbed what they could out of the public coffers and fled the country. Not just once but several times. Perhaps her children were unemployed, under employed, or perhaps they simply put her on the street to make more money. I would prefer to think it was the former and not the latter.
It was cold the day I saw her. It was late in the day and the shadows of the buildings already made the street dark. There was a wind coming down the hill. I had on my big black London Fog overcoat and heavy boots. No snow but the temperature during the day was well below freezing and had been for over a month. She had a little knitted coat on, no gloves that I could remember.
In her gnarled hands was a little cup made of cardboard and small baseball card sized icon. The icon was the only thing of color about her. I do not remember who it was, or if I ever knew. In the cup were a few small coins, perhaps enough to make a penny in US dollars.
I was coming out of a store that occasionally sold paperbacks in English, Penguin classics and Best Sellers stuff probably meant for an air port gift shop somewhere in the West and gray marketed into Kyiv. I had in my coat pocket the change from buying a few books. A five hryvnia note. Based on the exchange rate at the time it was about 80 cents.
I saw her and she turned to me with her chant “kopiyoki, kopiyoki, kopiyoki” her eyes were down cast.
So I put the note in her cup.
When she realized what it was she transformed. She grabbed me and started hugging me and kissing my hand. She spoke rapidly, and with few teeth, and my Russian and Ukrainian was very poor. All I caught was “Thank you.”
I put up my hands and said “Slava Bog” or “Praise God.”
Then I waved goodbye and walked away.
This is not about me. What did I do? Give her 80 cents? What is that to me? But to her it was food for several days. Maybe medicine. Maybe a way to buy herself grace from people she depended upon.
It did not save her. It did not fix her life. Maybe I kept her off the street for a few days. Maybe it changed her life, maybe it didn’t.
It was a tiny thing but it was as if I had given her the world.
I have people in and out of my office all of the time needing help. Some I can help, some I cannot help, some I wont help for various reasons. Their situations are so much more complicated than hers in many ways. I have even had people in here since I started writing this.
We are so unaware of the gap between where we are and where others are. Even those of us struggling with finances are privileged beyond the dreams of ancient kings.
Open your eyes. Open your hearts. Let God use you. Act.
Who knows what will happen.