The business where I spend my time serving humanity and collecting a huge paycheck has a large parking lot located near one of the main streets that run through my hometown. Hint: it's name is NOT Main St.!! During breaks and lunch periods I spend time in my truck in this very parking lot, listening to classical music, eating healthy salads and concocting snooty lies about the kinds of things I do in my truck during breaks and lunch periods. At least once a week I am approached by beggars. They walk up to the window, wait for me to roll it down and turn down the volume on the local rap station and ask for money, food, or money. Mainly money. Whatever I can spare. Please.
How do you deal with people who approach you asking for spare change? Do you have a no tolerance policy? Do you give every time you are asked? Do you gauge the character of the person asking you before deciding to help?
My truck has a section near the gear shift for change and I keep pennies, nickels, dimes, and, how did you guess? quarters there. I usually reach down and tell whoever that all I have is a quarter. Will this really help someone out? Or does it do more for me by assuaging any guilt over the unfairness of the situation? When I am on lunch and have some spare snack on the seat beside me available, I suppose I could offer it to the individual. "Here, have a Pringles Potato Crisp." doesn't seem like much of a solution. Perhaps keeping a deli sandwich in a cooler for such occassions would be far more fitting. Should I do that?
This blog post was inspired by an incident from yesterday morning that I cannot get to leave my head. At 5:55am a slightly haggard woman approached my truck. It was far too early for this, I thought, and pretended to suddenly find something on the roof of my truck extremely interesting. Through my peripheral vision, I spotted her raising something and, fearing a weapon, I decided to look at her. In her hand was a photo. The color photo showed a large Mexican male, bald, with a bushy mustache, dressed in a sleeveless white T-shirt and white cargo shorts. He was standing near a brick wall with an air of weariness about him. I rolled down my window.
The woman, in English with a slight Spanish accent explained, slowly and without hesitation, that the man in the photo was her husband. They had 4 children together all of whom she was caring for because he was taken to Mexico. She wanted anything I could spare in order to hire a "coyote" who would bring her husband across the border so he could help her feed her children.
Quite a story. I believed her. She appeared earnest. A potato chip probably wouldn't have helped. Nor a sandwich. A quarter then? Her plan seemed to entail quite a cost. Would a dollar be enough? 5 dollars? 10? Or... wait. We are talking illegal immigration here. She wanted me to support, with my money, an act of illegal immigration. But there were children involved, weren't there? This was now an issue of humanity, not law. Right? What would it take for you to walk parking lots before 6am, asking for spare change from whoever you came across? Would you do this without hesitation, for your husband? For your children?
I won't tell you what I did, how I responded. What would you have done?
But here is an odd thing. I am attaching relevance to it that may not be appropriate. Something happened today at lunch break. In my truck, reading the Wall Street Journal, I put the paper down and stared ahead, pondering, not focusing on anything. Motion on the ground outside my window attracted my attention. A small, chubby bird was looking at me. I don't know bird types at all, but let's say it was a wren, because "wren" is a great Scrabble word. This wren hopped closer looking AT me. Waiting.
The damned bird was begging. And not for a quarter or for help in getting her wren husband out of a zoo in Mexico either. I was pretty sure. I cracked the window enough to throw something out at the bird. She hopped away a little. Then looked at the busy street. Then back at me, as if letting me know the coast was clear and to toss out the bit of food or whatever I had to give her. I took a potato chip and tossed it out the window as hard as I could. It curved down to the ground and cracked in two. She looked at me. Hopped over. Looked around, then back at me. She picked up a half in her beak and chewed rather quickly, if it can even be described as chewing". She looked at me again, her little bird face tilted slightly, as if trying to memorize my face. She picked up the other, larger half of the chip and hopped a bit before flying away.
This would be where I tie the two events together. How we are all, man and beast, reliant on one another. How sometimes we need to beg for what we need. Hard times eventually grace us all and no man is an island. We are the world. I am my brother's keeper and all that. No one gets out of this world alone and people NEED people and so on and so forth. But I won't do that. That would be cheesy. If I was being taught something by Someone larger than myself, well, that's not for me to bore YOU with. You get to go through this life in your own skin. And you get to give or not give to beggars as you see fit. And when you are in need they are free to treat you the way they wish.
Maybe when I need help, someone will toss me a potato chip, I will memorize their face, and thank them in my own way.