More Than Money
Issue #10

Learning From Each Other

Table of Contents

“What Do You Need?”

It was her paper bag shoes that caught my eye. An old woman was sitting in a doorway, round and dark. She wore a blanket tented over her body; she did not move. I looked down at my new leather shoes, the trendy yellow stitching. As I crossed the street the heat rose in my face and turned my mouth sour. By then I was walking past a slick sporting goods shop on the corner: the hiking boots shone sturdily through the plate glass. I'll do it, I thought, my heart racing. I'll get her some good shoes.

"Um, excuse me ma'am? What size shoe do you wear?"

"Oh, these?" she asked brandishing her feet. "I made them myself," she bragged. "I know they're looking a little tatty, but I've got the bags to make some more." She opened a sack full of neatly-flattened paper products.

"Can I get you some shoes?" I asked.

"Oh, I know what you're up to," she said kindly. "You human! I don't need any shoes."

"Oh." I was dumbfounded. In that one clear and reproachful phrase, "You human!" I learned how much easer it is for me and other well-meaning folks to ask "Can I give you this?" than to ask the real question, "What do you need?"

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