In the park, a young woman comes up to me and asks to use my cell phone "to call a friend to pick her up." She doesn't have money for the pay phone. A person without a cell phone is almost as rare as a public phone these days. Addicts, dealers, prostitutes or homeless people are the likely users of old- fashioned pay phones. This is my reflexive judgment. I tell her she can't use my cell, but I have some change.
She thanks me as I dump coins into her cupped palm. Then she walks to the phone mounted next to the door of the public facility. Amazingly, it's actually functioning. Just before I enter the library, I notice the big black purse slung over her shoulder has abrasions like animal claw marks all down its side.
When I emerge from the building, the woman is standing in the parking lot. She thanks me again. I pass near her, just as she's yanking her sweatshirt off. It's getting hot. Her T-shirt rides up a bit as well, revealing a brief flash of belly and hip curve.
Driving away I think about karma; specifically how each thought and action spawns a corresponding effect. I absurdly try to imagine what specific consequences the handout I gave her -- at that particular moment will have on her fate -- or mine for that matter.
Impossible to know. A young woman carrying a shabby purse. Then I think of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, gazing with compassion on the suffering of the world; as I resume the ordinary tasks of my day.