I asked her if she was hungry and she looked at me out of her one good eye. “Yes! A bowl of soup would be great!“. And so I got it. Hot, steaming tortellini soup, bread to go with it, a banana, and mango Snapple. I stooped down to give her the heavy brown bag and help take the soup out for her. “You need something for your feet!” I said. “I’ll be right back”. “You would do that for me?” said she, completely shocked. I smiled and left her in her usual spot outside the 7 Eleven on Washington Street, but inside, I was feeling a little bit great.
And so I got them. Strong, boot-like slippers with good soles. And as I was buying them I had that little feeling inside again – the “I’m a little bit great!” feeling. I pushed it aside and looked around me, afraid that someone could have overheard that thought, felt the feeling. I would have hated to be found out. To have it discovered that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t about Sheryl, there was a little something in it for me. A little something that would pat me on the back and say – “Wow – look at you! Aren’t you something?!”
But I pushed the thought down, and resolutely walked back to Sheryl, warm slippers in hand, slightly Pharisaical in my bearing. And there she was. No food. No soup. No banana. No mango Snapple. No napkins. No spoon. No bread. Nothing. Just Sheryl. Sheryl asking me for money.
The Pharisee left and the plain outright mean in me came out. “What’d you do with the soup?” I demanded. “I just bought you soup. Where is it? Where is the banana, huh? Where is the Snapple? I like Snapple, I would’ve drunk it.” She peered up at me with the good eye – “Oh, It’s over there in the square with my boyfriend.”
I was furious. And then I stopped short. I had given away something and it was no longer mine. I gave the food to her, and it was then hers. I had no right to ask her what she had done with it. I had no business giving the food if there were strings attached. The self-righteous part of me was what was angry. I had taken my precious time, when I had things to do and places to go. I had done this for her and look how she repaid me! And I realized that the minute I let those “You’re so great” thoughts come in, it ceased being about her anymore. It was all about me.
I put the slippers on her, humbled. If I choose to give, it can’t be about me. The minute the gift leaves my hand, I have relinquished my right to it. It belongs to the receiver. If it was any other way than it wouldn’t be a free gift. It would be like the offers that fill my inbox promising me a free iPad or trip only to discover that I have to complete 12 to 15 offers and scroll through numerous pages before I can even think about a gift, exhausting me in the process. In the case of Sheryl and me, it has to be about her. That’s what a true gift is. It can’t be about strings attached that would entangle me. It has to be about a free gift and grace.
When I see her again, she may not have the slippers. And I might choose a different way to show I care. But whatever way I choose, it has to be about warm slippers, tortellini soup and God – it can’t be about me.