Once upon a time there lived a girl named Eliza. She lived in New York City and was an artist. She roamed the streets every day to find new inspiration for her work. Like many other struggling artists, she thought true art could be found in the realities of life. She searched for art in nature, in the hustle and bustle of the city, in the homeless, in the rich, in the simple, and in the extraordinary.

Eliza had just had her first success as an artist though. She had her work shown in a gallery for the first time. However, after her first triumph, she was having difficulty finding new inspiration. She decided that it was time for drastic measures and she said goodbye to her apartment and went to live on the streets.

This was a crazy idea, and Eliza knew it, but she was always able to find something beautiful among people who had absolutely nothing but could still survive. New York streets were not a safe place to be, but to her the dangers were worth what she might find. The very first night she quickly discovered what it was like to have no place to sleep. The shelters that she tried were all full and she felt wrong taking a place from someone who needed it anyway. So she set off for Central Park and found a bench.

The next morning Eliza awoke to a police officer nudging her.

“You can’t sleep here,” he said and moved on to the next bench dweller. Eliza immediately realized that although she may find beauty from an outsider’s perspective, there was not much about actually being homeless that was inspirational. She removed herself from the bench and went to the nearest coffee shop.

After she ordered her drink, she reached for her wallet and realized that because she was trying to stay true to her adventure, she left her wallet at home. The barista could tell that she had a rough night and he was accustomed to seeing folks down on their luck come through his doors. Eliza was about to explain to him her predicament when he smiled and said,

“Coffee is on me today. Just pay it forward when you can.” Eliza smiled too and rushed home to paint the most inspirational moment in her life.

© Autumn Siders 2006

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