“Spare change?” she asked hopefully. Turning around, I met the bright gaze of a woman wrapped in a blue shawl, leaning up against a building on Shattuck Street. She was grinning up at me, eyes twinkling. She looked like she wanted to talk.
“No change,” I said abruptly, rummaging through my purse to find quarters for the meter. Berkeley’s parking system links to a central voucher distributor that accepts change or credit cards, but not dollar bills. It’s inconvenient, balky, and outrageous, since most credit cards will not authorize a simple one-hour, one-dollar transaction and instead tick out a minimum $2.50 charge for what might be a 15-minute parking need. Naturally, you want to have the right change on hand. Naturally, I didn’t have it. I only had dollar bills.
I felt the bright gaze beating at me and turned. There she sat, grinning. The irony of the moment was not lost on either of us.
“Need change?” She broke into a huge grin and dug into her plastic sack, chasing coins around the bottom, finally rounding up a grimy handful. She thrust it toward me, excited.
“Here you go!” She was missing two teeth, wore shoes without heels, and her nails, curved and black at the ends, spoke of chain link fences, pushcarts, tin cans and hard cement. Yet she was happy—no, excited!—to help me out, as I had grumpily refused to do for her moments ago. A glow of satisfaction lit the scene. Like Portia in Merchant in Venice, on this day…
The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Caught in the moment, we both grinned. Something new had been forged. This woman had fulfilled Matthew 5:42, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”
“Good luck!” I said, still embarrassed. She waved at me. Then, straight from the depths of her personality, ringing with the delight of inspiration, she shouted at me, “Change is good!” ©