Wearing slacks, neat sneakers, a nice blouse, and a pretty necklace under an orange vest, weighted down by pockets gorged with peanuts and candy, I had forgotten how humbling it was to work a corner during Kiwanis Peanut days, as drivers actively avoided acknowledging I was present, despite my smile, vest and willingness to serve. 

I cast out when the light was red at Madison, making my way north as drivers headed southbound along the Desplaines Avenue bend. This was a corner I worked years ago. Somewhere in my memory it was familiar, but it took a few trips to find the groove.

Once a couple of generous, kind, souls opened their hearts from the comfort zone of their vehicles, the walk felt a little less awkward. Slowly I began to get the occasional warm greeting, the thanks, and the couple of bucks or clang of some change that would build up to fuel the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park. 

There was no way of judging from afar if someone in a car would have pity or a curious heart. Some generous drivers, plugging away through their daily grind, made their way home, still wearing their uniform shirt from Jewel, Opportunity Knocks, or the Police Department. Sometimes a gift would come from a car knocking on the door of the salvage yard and sometimes from a luxury car owner with vanity plates. Givers came in all different shapes and sizes.

It became apparent early that focusing on the people who would not raise an eye or have a moment to spare would not keep up my motivation. While internally cursing them seemed like it might help, it only weighed me down. 

I practiced the art of paving a way to heaven by focusing only on grateful energy exchanges. It worked. The repetitive trip down the drivers’ side of the vehicles, safely with the rhythm of the traffic light began to feel familiar and exciting. The humble feeling of holding a tin cup never completely washed away, but the harmony of the simple acts of walking for small acts of kindness became invigorating.

Eventually I would find a car or two in a string that would open their wallet or grab loose change to contribute to the cause and melt my discomfort, reminding me of the goodness of humanity. They were always friendly and restorative.

 Among the many generous givers on Thursday and Friday included a proud Sox fan opening his wallet despite his team’s struggles, a big donor who was in a white pickup truck, a woman who handed me the $2 bill from her dad that she had stowed away in her wallet, a garbage man who was waiting for my can, Fred in his tiny red electric car, and several pedestrians on the sidewalk who came to me as I made my way from the end of the line back to the starting point when the light shifted to green. 

Each dollar and cent became a symbol of goodwill and hope. Over the shifts, my can began to swell, my heart was uplifted, and my feet grew tired. It will be a year before I will be back on the street looking for more goodwill ambassadors who can spare a dime.