I walked up Walnut Street tonight on my way home from the Ritz Five Theater. Heading from east to west, past Wills Eye Hospital, Jeweler’s Row and Le Bec Fin. I was listening to my iPod for a little while, until I acknowledged my uneasy feeling generated by the white strings hanging from my ears and put my conspicuous consumer electronic device away for the duration of the walk home. Without the iPod to divert my attention and make me look busy, I felt uncomfortable as I walked through Center City at 11 o’clock at night. So I called my mom (exchanging one device for another). We talked about syncronicity and about the “there are no accidents” phenomenon.
She told me that she and my dad had been in Fred Meyers (the best grocery/clothing/electronics/home/garden/everything store around for you east coasters) today and my dad’s cell phone rang. My father stopped in the middle of the aisle to answer and as he talked, a woman walked towards him from the other end of the aisle. She looked familiar to him, and as she past, he hung up the phone and called out, “Karen?” She stopped and said, “Yes?” My father thought she was the girlfriend of a guy from the Unitarian church choir and asked her if that was the case. It turns out that she wasn’t, that she’s getting married on Sunday and she and my father have never met before. But he called out her name and she answered. My mom said to Karen, once they weren’t able to come up with any that they had ever met, “Maybe we were just supposed to stop you and wish you happiness and joy in your upcoming life.” And with that, they parted.
Just as my mom finished recounting this story, I heard the notes of a recorder playing. There is a blind, homeless woman who plays this recorder on the street a couple of blocks from my apartment many nights during fair weather, hoping for a few cents from the people passing by. I’ve seen her for years and rarely stopped to drop a coin into her bucket. I was across the street from her and as I glanced up, I saw her put down her recorder and reach into her bin, to see what people had given her. She felt the few coins, sighed and took a bite out of a stale cracker. I put my hand into my bag and crossed the street and asked her if she liked oatmeal, chocolate chip, walnut cookies.
I had taken these leftover cookies (made originally for students at work) with me to the movies tonight, to share with my ex-boyfriend as we watched “Crash” and hung out for the first time in six months. My intention had been to leave any that remained with him after the movies, but as we parted, offering the rest of the cookies had felt too maternal and familiar, so I had stuck them back into my bag and made my way home. I had been reaching for my wallet as the urge struck to offer something of what I had to this woman, but the cookies made their way into my hand instead and instantly I realized it was the right thing. She was happy to receive them and said, “Thank you, I was getting hungry.” In an instant, this exchange became my “no accidents” encounter for the day. She was hungry, I had cookies and I followed my instinct to share.
Two business men were walking by as I offered the cookies and said to me as we all walked away what a nice thing I had done. In that moment I felt annoyed at them for commenting on my “good deed” and not doing anything themselves, but now I think that what I did was make her visible to them. For an instant I brought her presence out of the shadows and into the shop lights of Walnut Street. Maybe a little bag of cookies will create ripples far and wide. You never know.