The bitter cold nipped through the layers of my coat, biting into my joints; a rare cold snap had swept over the mild West Coast, and people waddled like penguins in their warm layers. Inside the shelter of a train station carols hummed through speakers and dazzling holiday lights lined the window sills. I looked out at the swarms of shoppers scurrying along the sidewalks; in the midst of the chaos, I spotted a young girl with her dog, sitting on the ground against a bus stop. She huddled inside of a dark hoodie that could not keep out the bitter chill of the night. Her companion stayed close, a loyal partner to his unfortunate owner.
People skirted by her, rushed through her, callously kicking over her tiny cardboard asking for help to get to a hostel for the night. She didn’t engage with the people passing her, she didn’t thrust herself into their path asking for money; she simply waited, hoping for a kind offering. The trifling struggles I endured over the past year with old lady RA, vanished in the appalling circumstances of this tiny girl sitting in the bitter night, with nothing but a hoodie, her dog and an empty paper cup beside her.
I traipsed over to the local coffee stand, bought a hot cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll, and brought it to her; after I handed her the coffee, I held out a twenty-dollar bill. She looked at it, but did not reach for it, as she was afraid the touch of it might sting her. “Are you sure?” she whispered. I nodded; yes, I was sure.
No matter what my struggles have been, and may still be, against the unpredictable and troubling challenges of arthritis, I am fortunate to have a support system, a roof over my head, a place I can call home. I may not have much to give but this holiday season, I was able offer a small gesture to make someone feel human; and in that moment, she gave me the extraordinary gift of liberating me from the relentless pity of my disease.
Wishing everyone a warm and Happy Holiday season.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.