Last night, as I was exiting a 7-11 with a cold drink in my hand, I noticed a guy with a “homeless” sign filling up plastic jugs from the store’s outdoor spigot. My wife was looking at him when I got in the car.
“I kinda want to give him some money,” she said.
“I’ll go give him some.”
I got out and handed him some cash. After he smiled and thanked me, I told him to “stay cool out here.”
How he was supposed to do that, being out in the sweltering heat and homeless, I had no idea, but it seemed like the thing to say.
I’m broke. I am a poor person. But I have things; I’m blessed. Some people have nothing, and I often at least give whatever change I have in my car or pockets to them. If I have any paper money on me I’ll give them a few bucks, between one and ten, depending on how close it is to payday.
Some people don’t don’t do this because they assume the recipient will spend the money frivolously, but that’s not the point, for me. I assume good intentions until I see otherwise.
For example, I once gave five bucks to a guy who told me he was very hungry and had no money. He promptly bought a pack of cigarettes when I left, according to what an employee later told me.
I was a little annoyed, but the experience failed to sour me on helping those less fortunate than I. It’s just like when you hold the door open for some woman who breezes past without acknowledgment. I still do it, habitually. It’s who I am. I wouldn’t feel right not holding the door for a woman.
Around here, the general consensus concerning panhandling is that they’re scam artists who “prolly have a nicer house than me.” We’ve made laws to crack down on the practice. We don’t want to see it, and we don’t want to believe that the problem is real.
I, however, am a realist, and I trust my eyeballs when they see homeless person after homeless person after homeless person roaming the streets of Oklahoma City every single day.
Even if they are homeless, it’s probably their fault. They’re on drugs or they’re drunks.”
Tell yourself whatever you have to, I guess; mentally sugarcoat everything and seal it away in the back of your mind’s file cabinet, bottom drawer. Pretend that life isn’t mostly pain and suffering with intermittent bursts of joy that keep us from offing ourselves.
The homeless are real people. We relegate them to a lower tier, though. We’re above them. There’s no one lower, in the hierarchy of our greed-driven society. They’re the person at the end of the human centipede.
I’m not patting myself on the back for giving pocket change to “bums.” I don’t do it every day. Obviously I walk or drive by the majority of them without doing so.
The point is that we separate ourselves from these people, in our minds. They are the ones everyone can look at and go “I’m better than that.”
Are we, though?
That old man you avoided eye contact with at the stoplight today, he was a baby once, his mother’s pride and joy. He went to school, he played baseball, he worked hard, maybe joined the military, fought overseas…maybe he was married. Maybe he has kids. He’s a person with a life, and all of the hardship and struggle and laughter and sorrow that a typical human life consists of. He is me. There but for the grace of God go I, right?
I can spare a couple bucks sometimes.