My wife and I are people watchers. It might be are favorite pastime. What I’ve noticed over time is that as crowds pass by on the street, people tend to act like the person a head of them. People are sheep. I too, am often a mindless sheep.
“But Rick!” you say, “You have always marched naked to the beat of your own erratically-pounded drum. Surely you don’t follow others mindlessly?”
Oh, if that were true. For years I trod my own path. Meandering though cities, byways, woods, and the occasional in advertent turn into an occupied woman’s restroom. The world zigged and I zagged. But then I started working in downtown Phoenix, awash as it is with the homeless, the indigent and the poor-you know, stinky little scum bags. And I started to treat them like everybody else.
But let me back up. A dozen years back, I looked at my alcohol-soaked, bipolarish rollercoaster of a life and made a simple decision. Who was I to ever judge a person who was down and out? There but for the grace of God go I. I determined to always give to those who petitioned me for alms? The way my scriptures read, I should never judge those less fortunate than I, but give freely as I have been freely given.
Or to quote from the source:
“And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just-
But I say unto you, a man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?”
Well that outlook on petitioners for alms is all fine and well when I was just fine working in the suburbs. On any given week I might encounter one or two freeway off ramp beggars promising me that they would work for food, though they preferred cold hard cash. A couple of bucks a week and I was set. I was petitioned, I gave, all was good.
Then I started working downtown.
No longer could my interaction with the indigent limited be characterized as occasional. Now I was literally facing streets lined with grubby-faced bums shaking their cups, making their pitches and tugging at my pants leg. Worse yet, none of them were hot Asian women. I have not issue throwing money at hot Asian women. But I digress …
Each day, a plethora of hobos stand between my office and any restaurant I chose to walk to. There is even one particularly pathetic looking guy in wheelchair—a guy who pushed his wheel chair to the designated spot–who sets up shop between my office and the parking garage I am required to use. As one who uses the backseat of my car like others use a briefcase, I often find myself running back and forth to my car several times a day. At a dollar a pop, I was looking at some serious change just to access my own briefcase on wheels.
My “give-freelv-when-petitioned” approach to life was starting to cost me some change. Almost, I dare say, as much as I spend daily on Diet Pepsi and Lottery tickets. How dare they?
So I looked to the example of my fellow urban workers. They seemed to care naught for those that beseeched them. They walk the streets with purpose–eyes straight ahead, expressionless and unapproachable. Ain’t no beggar laying a hold of their pocket change.
I was impressed. My mind said “more lottery tickets for me.” I mimicked my peers.
Within a few short months I had dropped that nonsense of loving others and gotten to the point where I had real disdain for those less fortunate than me.
This new attitude towards the poor was in full force this past summer as I was gorging myself at the local food court. As I was finishing my gyro and fries I happened to look out though the glass doors to the outside seating. It was June. It was Arizona. Ain’t no one sitting outside.
But one unwashed fellow was working his way through the tables, peering in trash cans, and looking expectantly at anyone who exited the glass doors.
Although 30 feet away and separated by those glass doors, I could see his filth. I could smell his stink. I was ready to charge out the door and blow past him as if he didn’t exist. Lousy, begging bum.
As I judge him, I projected how I would ignore his little pathetic pleas as I rushed by him. But before I could finish my food and pass him by, a most unsettling thing occurred. A man two tables up from me, wrapped up a half a sandwich and exited out the door. I thought, poor sap, he’s going to be accosted for sure. But the bum said nothing. Instead, when he saw someone approaching him he shied away from peering in the trash cans and started to move on.
But my lunch mate beckoned him before he could move out of range. He made eye contact with the bum. He spoke to him. He handed him his half sandwich.
Oh boy, he’s asking for it. This guy doesn’t want food, he wants the green, I thought. They spoke for a while. The bum smiled. My lunch mate never reached for his pocket.
The bum walked away. Eagerly he unwrapped the sandwich. He ate with obvious joy.
My lunch mate went his way. Did I mention that he walked away with a cane? Did I mention that his foot, deformed likely from birth, twisted unnaturally to the outside? Did I mention that he taught me what it means to be human again? Yeah, I thought I’d better mention that.
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