Three Minutes and a Pair of Socks

This article originally appeared on No Sidebar.

This past November as I was driving home, I came to a familiar intersection where a homeless woman stood with a sign asking for help. I’d seen her numerous times before, but had always stopped short of giving. On this instance, I reached into my wallet and gave her my spare change, mostly pennies, amounting to no more than 15 cents.

As I handed it to her and double checked my car’s various compartments, I apologized that I didn’t have more to give. Instead of disappointment or agitation, she expressed deepfelt gratitude, and thanked me profusely. It didn’t matter whether it was a few pennies or a few dollars, she said. Every little bit helped.

During our brief exchange, she shared that her feet were hurting. It was evident that she wasn’t asking for anything more from me – she simply wanted someone to listen. And so I did.

As I drove away, the thought of our few minutes together warmed me to the core. She shook her head, in awe of this simple act, and I shook mine, in awe of her humble gratitude. I immediately wanted to gift her a new pair of shoes, but realizing this wasn’t feasible, I thought about giving her a warm pair of socks.

Upon further reflection, I quickly surmised that she wouldn’t be the only one struggling to keep warm this winter, and she certainly couldn’t be the only person whose feet were hurting.

A few days later, I emailed friends and family to share that I’d be leading a winter sock drive. I hung up a sign at work and reached out to neighbors. I set up donation bags and waited for pairs of two to trickle in, and gradually, they did.

Over the course of 8 weeks, I had collected 84 pairs of new winter socks and 8 pairs of gloves. I beamed at the two full shopping bags that had taken up residence in my closet and let my eager pup down gently that sadly, no, they weren’t for her.

Most of those who donated didn’t even know about the encounter that had prompted my 2-month-long collection. Some donated as many as 20 pairs. Many were patterned, others were plain. Two pairs were fuzzy, tied with a bow.

I stopped seeing the homeless woman at her usual intersection as the days grew colder. I hope she’s safe and warm and has a place to rest her feet. I’ve kept a spare pair of socks in my trunk for when I see her again, and hope to be able to tell her about the gift she helped give to so many others facing similar difficulties.

Even when we don’t realize it, our small acts add up. To those most in need, a kind smile and open ears can go a long way. To those who have everything, the same holds true.

No matter our circumstances, we each have the capacity to give and to receive: a thoughtful card, a homecooked meal, a deep belly laugh, a morning sunrise. Whether we have 15 cents or 15 dollars, our wealth needn’t define our impact or our potential.

Instead of just trying to “be more” this year, try to be more with less. How can you give more of your genuine, energized self and less of your overcommitted, exhausted self? How can you invest more in what you already own and less in what society tells you will make you complete? How can you share more of your talents and less of your self-perceived shortcomings?

Maybe it will take one conversation or maybe a few dozen. We don’t know where a simple “Thank you” will lead or the impact a thoughtful “How are you?” will have. Stop. Engage. Start where you are.

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