In one of my previous postings, I shared with you the story of the man that I encountered at Publix that was asking for money for the bus. That experience got me thinking about the other similar situations I have found myself in over the years and how that has shaped how I handle them.
We encounter people all the time asking for money on the streets. It is an unfortunate situation that we have to deal with as a society, especially one that over the years didn’t the have that great a focus on mental health and homelessness. There are times that I walk right by people without even acknowledging and there are other times that I feel compelled for some reason to act on my intuition and give at that moment. There was one moment years ago when I lived in New Jersey that stands out for me and put me at a crossroads as to whether or not I would become jaded about future similar encounters.
I often spent time in New York City. Anyone familiar with New York knows that it is impossible to wander the streets there and not encounter someone asking for money at some point. This one particular night it was later in the evening and I was walking down 7th avenue on my way from dinner back to my hotel. When in New York I usually keep my head down, try and blend in like a local and just go about my business. Sometimes that means you aren’t exactly paying attention to where you are going and it is very easy to bump into people along the way. That is exactly what happened to me this particular night.
As I walked down the street a man approached me from the other direction. He was carrying food in a styrofoam container. I didn’t see him initially until our elbows collided and his food went flying all over the sidewalk. He was very disheveled and said to me “oh man, someone just gave me this food and now it’s ruined. This was my meal for the night”. Needless to say, I felt horrible. I apologized, took $20 out of my pocket and handed it to him and asked him to please go and buy himself something to eat. He took it gladly and oddly enough didn’t even say thank you. As I turned to walk away, I noticed him scooping up all the food off the sidewalk back into his container and he continued on, as did I.
For some reason as I was walking, I turned back to see if he was going into one of the fast food places on the street and you can guess what I saw. Yes, he had run into another person on the street, pulling the same con, playing on their emotion to get even more money. My initial reaction was to go after him, but I was in New York City and that that wasn’t going to happen. My second thought was that I was done, I had been had and my giving days were over.
The more I thought about it, the more my grandmother was in my head. I could have allowed that moment to make me jaded to the point that I could ignore all future people that may be in need. However, what I realized was that it wasn’t worth losing my humanity over $20. If we let those who take from us in those situations prevent us from showing the compassion that is inside us, then they win and many others lose. People have made comments to me in the program like, “great, just what we seniors need is more junk in our mail”, or “don’t give out your address as they will just try and steal for you”. Those are actual comments posted on our Facebook page. If we allow those people to make us jaded then what happens to the thousands that we support that would lose out?
Although we have a responsibility to not put ourselves in situations where we can be taken advantage of, when you are open to human nature it is going to happen. It is how we deal with those situations that make and mold us into the very people we are. I have no regrets that I chose the path I did that night. While I may be more careful, he may have gotten my $20, but he didn’t get my humanity. For that I am grateful and and I still get to be the person I want to be.
Have a great day and remember to be the reason someone smiles today.