I am currently exhausted from a busy yesterday, but something that happened yesterday I just cannot seem to get out of my mind.
I think I’m a pretty cynical person. I will generally expect the worst in most people, even if I’m secretly hoping for the best. One of these has been in the case of people who ask for money. They could be on the side of the road with signs in their hands or they approach you, out of the blue, with a story to tell. I generally give nothing… ever.
Think I’m an asshole all you want, but I’m still of the thought process that charity begins at home. I have a friend who makes significantly less than I do, they are the working welfare recipient… that kind of bad… and I make a point of taking their family out to dinner every so often, especially to places they would not be able to go otherwise. It gives the parent a break, I enjoy their company and their kids get to experience something different. If my kid gets an Advents calendar for Christmas, I drag their kids to get one too. If my kid needs something like headphones, I will make a mental note as to whether theirs could use them too.
If they have some deep wish that is outside of the realm of their parent, I do what I can to help… without overtaking it. If I can fix it so their parent looks the hero, or help direct the parent to a lower cost option, I opt for that. I don’t do it with being charitable as a goal, its just to expect them to run at my pace and expense level is unfair, but missing out on something because of it, even more so.
With that said, I was running errands yesterday when I was suddenly approached by a woman who was trying her best to tell me her dilemma, but the only things I could understand were “hospital”, “gas”, “I have nothing”, and “even a dollar.” I got the jist, she wanted money. This is usually when my heart turns to stone and I, truthfully, explain I have no cash… sorry. I had a whopping $2.00 in my wallet yesterday. If I have cash, I spend it, so I don’t care to carry it unless its necessary.
But I looked at her. There was nothing particularly striking about her and I really couldn’t tell you for sure much, if anything, about her appearance.
It was her eyes.
Her eyes were telling me that asking this of me was killing her and she hated it. Her eyes were full of pain, pride, obstinance and desperation. Lots of desperation.
I knew that look.
There was a time in my own past when I had that look. My kid’s first Christmas I was unemployed and almost homeless. They got two dollar store toys that year, neither of which provided by me. I swallowed a LOT of pride that year. I applied for any slim chance of assistance I could find, all the while applying for jobs anywhere I could. It would be another year before we happen to be gifted a 10 inch tree at a company gift exchange. If there is a deadly sin I’m especially guilty of, it would definitely be pride and I resent that era of my life when I had to swallow ALL of it to survive.
I have been approached before, of course. They have all been the heartstring pulling type of stories that generally lure a person in, but that’s the problem. They all sound so fucking rehearsed. Every time I have ever been approached for money, what they said sounded so much like a worn out records, scratches and all. If you have ever heard a customer service person say something about “this call may be recorded…” you know what I’m talking about. They have been saying it so long, it has long lost any emotional connection it might have ever contained. It always made me wonder if any of them were ever grounded in truth and it was just fruitlessness that caused the monotonous sound… but… I certainly never bothered to feel any regret over it.
I handed her the little money I had without another word. She ran out with a looking on her face like she’d been sucking lemons, the kind of face you make when you’re trying not to break down while there was still stuff to do. I might have still been had, I don’t know. For the first time though, I didn’t care.