A few weeks ago I was walking home from a yoga class as it got dark, along a relatively busy street for my quiet town--busy enough that there are sound-walls lining it behind the houses--but fairly quiet for that sort of street engineering. Between the ivy-laced sound-walls and the road is an area of tanbark studded with human-tall cone-shaped junipers, then the sidewalk running along the curb.
Something moved suddenly amongst the junipers. At first I thought it was a dog, then it made a startled noise and stood up.
It was a homeless woman. She looked to be about 60 years old, with scraggly unwashed grey hair roping down her face, and tattered clothes.
"Hi," I said. "I'm sorry to have startled you. Are you going to be safe there?"
She looked at me with an astonished expression. "What?"
"Are you going to be safe there?"
"I think I'll be okay," she said.
I asked her if she knew where the homeless shelter was; she didn't. I wasn't sure if it was open yet, as it only opens in the winter, but I described where it was (about a mile away). I also pointed out there was a church about a block away where she might be able to use the restroom in the morning and get more information about homeless services in town.
She reached out cautiously as if to hold my hands, so I held her hands. She almost broke down crying, saying it had been so long since anyone had talked to her or just held her hand.
I didn't have any food or money I could share. All I had was a kind attitude and my directions where she might find more help. She seemed mildly demented or possibly schizophrenic, so when I arrived at home I called the police to ask if the elder-care facility two blocks from where the woman was sleeping had lost anybody. The police said they'd had no reports of any missing residents. I think the cop expected me to ask them to roust the poor lady, which I didn't--in any case he told me about the city's homeless resource flyer I could download and print from the city's police website, to give to her if I saw her again.
The flyer was in small print that I'm sure the woman would not have been able to read, if I had been able to find her again. The following morning I had to pick up my car from being repaired, and when I drove past the woman's spot, there was no sign of her. I hope she found some help at the places I described.
I think this is what aikido is for. Before starting aikido I think I would have been either too afraid or too indifferent to talk to this woman. Even though I couldn't do anything to materially help her situation, I'd like to think she got some emotional comfort at least for that one particular evening. Even my low-level of skill made me feel I'd at least be able to get away if she had done anything dangerous, and that confidence gave me "room" in which to be kind.