Friday, August 09, 2013
A Beggar at the Door of My Car
As I loaded my groceries into the car, a man approached me.
"Would you give me a couple quarters?" he asked, adding, "I'm hungry!"
I continued putting my groceries in the car, thinking about what I might have just bought that would be ready-to-eat, wishing I had bought a protein bar. I pulled out a bag of hoagie buns and offered them to him. He made no move to take them, and I said, "I guess they would be awkward."
"Can't you give me money?" he asked. "I want to buy a sandwich."
"I will go with you into the store & buy you a sandwich," I offered.
"No," he whined, "Can't you give me quarters?"
"I don't give people money," I said not unkindly, but firmly, shutting the rear passenger door where I was loading the groceries, and turning my back on him, ignoring his continued pleas. For the first time, I realized I was a bit nervous, as I could see out of the corner of my eye that he followed me from the passenger side of the car to the front of my car. But I guess he decided I wasn't going to be any help; so he went to another car. I noticed they listened politely, and politely turned him down before he went on to the next car.
As I write this, I'm thinking what if a friend had written this article and I was reading it. I might be saying, "You stood there and talked to a stranger at the door of your car?!" Well, first of all, I have had sixty years of life experience in a variety of locales and situations, and I have always been one of the most cautious people I know; so if no alarm bells went off in my head, I was probably okay as far as danger goes. (Okay, I know that there are probably numerous things wrong with that last statement.)
Also, there wasn't a lot I could do except be polite and firm, as he was already there by my open car door. I learned when I lived in Los Angeles to never show fear, although I guess I could have just said no in the first place, which is what I usually say if someone approaches me on the street, asking for change. But I didn't.
And maybe that's because I know what it is to have relatives, and friends who have relatives, throughout that spectrum: hungry, or dependent on alcohol, or with a debilitating, but non-violent mental illness that causes them to have difficulties in life. And I have relatives who have none of those problems, yet have been temporarily down on their luck. Those are some of the reasons I'm a little open to helping a little, if I can. Along with the words of Jesus, "I was hungry and you gave me to eat."
But just as I wasn't sure how to handle that situation while I was there, I also wasn't sure whether or not to report it to the store. I finally did call, and the woman on the phone told me she appreciated me telling them. This is not the kind of store where people beg in the parking lot; but I don't think it was so much that thought that caused me to call. What tipped the balance for me was his being right at my car door in my personal space. If you approach me on the street, I can walk way, but I can't as easily walk away from my car. If you spend time close to me and my car, and then you follow me halfway around my car after I say no, then I have to assume you could possibly be a danger to myself or others.
Recalling a different situation, although I said I don't give money, there are exceptions to that. One evening we were walking downtown and passed by a woman playing beautifully on a flute. To me, she looked hungry, and also sad. When I put money in her bowl, she said thank you, and I said, "You're welcome, and thank you." She looked pleasantly surprised that I said that and wished me a good evening. She had provided a service, she had entertained me, just as they do in San Francisco or New Orleans. I thanked her, just as I do the cashier in the store, because we have each provided one another a service. I felt better for having reminded the flutist of that, with my "thank you", than I did for giving her a little money. When we help people, it's not like we are feeding the squirrels. We are dealing with human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God. Although I will back away from perceived danger or even report it, yet when I do help someone on the street, I like to treat them with the same respect I would my family members or friends, or my friends' family members. After all, aren't we really all part of the same human family?