Yesterday, on my way to work, I watched an old guy ask the car in front of me for money. When they didn't even roll down their window before pulling away, he made his way toward my car. I could tell from the look of him, he was homeless. He and his clothes were worn and dirty, and it appeared he had a disability from the way he was talking. I gave him the last five dollars I had in my pocket so that he could get something to eat at the McDonalds he was headed to right down the road.
It's moments like that, that make me sad, that the car in front of me didn't even have the courtesy to roll down their window before driving away. And what upsets me the most when I see people just drive away, is I used to be that person. I would just give a wave and shake my head "no" before driving off.
I was young and I used to think maybe they were just lazy or had a drug problem and it was as simple as just cleaning themselves up and getting a job. I didn't realize that most homeless have a disability of one form or another or that someone could just be down on their luck and sincerely need a hand. Growing up in a world where you're constantly told to be suspicious of people's intentions, made me that way.
What began to change my way of thinking was one night, I heard my cousin complaining about her boyfriend giving homeless people money all the time, saying he doesn't know if they're buying drugs or lying about needing it. All he said was "I gave someone help when they said they needed it, what they do with the money is on them after that." Hearing him say that made me stop, and reevaluate my previous actions.
After that, I opened my mind to the idea that not every homeless person, or person asking for money was being deceitful. I began giving a dollar here or there when I felt they might actually need it. But I still used it as a tool to make me feel better about myself, as a way of saying "Look at me. I just gave that guy a dollar, aren't I truly magnanimous?" I still didn't get it.
A little while ago a group of friends and I decided to celebrate finishing our exams for the semester and walked down to one of the bars near campus. We were having fun, drinking beer and just enjoying being done with school for a couple weeks before the next semester started.
Things started to wind down and a friend and I decided to walk back to our cars together. As we were walking down the sidewalk and talking I happened to glance up and see a man digging through one of the street garbage cans pulling out a wrapper with a mostly eaten burger in it. As we began to pass by him, a group of high school aged girls and two moms passed by us. The girls caught sight of the man and started giggling and pointing. The moms briefly looked at the man and kept walking not saying anything to the girls.
That's when it hit me.
I was barreled over by a wave of pain and anger. My heart hurt for the man who was so skinny that his clothes hung off of him at odd angles and he literally had to hold his pants up because even on the last hole, his belt wasn't tight enough. I felt the anger boil up at the girls who just laughed and pointed. At the mothers who would walk on pretending like nothing was happening. And at a world where it was okay to do exactly that and feel no remorse.
As my friend and I walked on, she still talking away not realizing what had gone on around her, I was no longer listening. I was so torn up inside, my mind racing at everything that had taken place in that moment.
I had to make a decision. Could just I continue walking, having witnessed that moment, but do nothing?
In that split second I knew I couldn't do it. I knew that if I let myself become a product of an apathetic and uncaring world, so jaded by all of the bad things that take place, I wouldn't be able to live with the person I was about to become.
With my friend still walking, I turned and walked back to him, pulled out my wallet gave him the bill that I had in there, hugged him and told him to go get some real food. It only turned out to be a twenty but if it had been a hundred I would have given him that too. He hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek and I walked away before I could no longer hold back the emotions I was fighting so hard to keep down.
By that point my friend had noticed I was no longer walking with her and had stopped to wait for me to catch up. I stepped back into pace with her and I continued the conversation where we left off, not wanting to have to explain what had happened as we made it back to our cars.
Later that night, when I got home, I called my mom. Something I always do when I'm in need of comfort or understanding. As I began to tell her everything that had happened I felt my walls weaken. I couldn't hold back all of the raw emotion I was feeling and began to cry. I told her about my anger I felt towards the girls and mothers that just walked on as if it was okay to not care as they pointed and laughed at someone digging in a garbage can for food. I told her how in that moment I felt my heart break for the man who had to live in a world where it was okay, or at least it happened. And maybe he didn't even notice, but that still doesn't make it right.
And like I knew she would, my mother comforted me and understood how I felt. Explaining, that maybe those girls didn't understand but someday they might have their own moment of realization too. "Yeah," I said, "maybe you're right."
A couple days later, I saw him walking down the street with a Subway sandwich in his hand and I was just glad he had something to eat.
Now, whenever I give someone money for food or gas, or what not, I'm not doing it to make me feel better about myself. I do it because, maybe, even if only for one person, I can help someone who really needs it.