If you're like me and often don't actually read diaries but roughly skim or skip right by to read the comments, please do mosey on down and tell us what's weighing on you this week. WYFP is about the comments, not the diary text. :-)
I was living in New York City at the time, and walking down the street one day, I heard a woman's voice saying, "I was very sick all winter." Naturally intrigued, I turned around and saw a woman handing a street person some money. She went on talking to him: "I had pneumonia, and every time I started to get better I'd have a relapse. Now I am finally really getting better, and I just wanted to share the joy."
I was taken aback. Realizing that I had walked right by that man without a thought of sharing the joy of my own renewed health, I wondered whether I should I go up to him, hand him more money, and say, "You won't believe this, but I was really sick all winter too, and I'd like to share some joy as well."
I ended up not doing that, but I felt I'd learned something from that woman. The decision whether or not to give a street person money is complex, and there is no single answer to suit every situation. What made this such a forceful lesson for me was that I had walked right by that man without any thought that his life had something to do with mine. Without that view, there was no impetus to relate to him in any way--through noticing his sorrow, or thinking of sharing my own joy.
(The full article is online here)
There are a lot of schools of thought on giving money to homeless people or panhandlers, and none of them are the point of this story. This is a story about giving as an expression of gratitude, about keeping love flowing in the world. I'm interested that the author didn't do likewise, which makes some sense since when you see someone doing something good it could be egotistical to jump up and say, "me too, I'm just as virtuous!" Maybe the point was that she had been humbled by the realization that she was not.
When I was a college freshman in San Antonio, TX I met a homeless lady who needed just a little cash for the bus, and then she proceeded to talk my ear off, and although I had no special care for homeless people I couldn't help liking this woman. She was cheery and so grateful that I would listen to her. She was even sincerely grateful when I assured her that I didn't believe she was an alien, which apparently was what she tended to tell people when she was having a schizophrenic episode. She told me freely how much she feared those times, and that just a couple weeks ago she'd been taken away by ambulance from the grocery store across the street, given a shot to calm her, and committed to a psychiatric hospital for a few days. This happened at intervals and it was a horrible experience every time; she just wanted to live a normal life.
She was on her way to Goodwill to get mittens. It was winter and she'd been sleeping outdoors. Her hands were swollen, red, and peeling from frostbite--very painful to look at. She didn't have any lotion or anything for them. I didn't have a lot of money myself and had to be careful, but I had a $5 bill and I thought what if I took her in the grocery store and bought her some cream for her poor hands, and something to eat. But I didn't. She didn't have money for mittens either, and I didn't give her any for that either because all I had was my $5 bill which my mom had given me. I hoped that at Goodwill they would see her hands and give her mittens.
The bus came and we got on. There were two homeless guys, friends of the schizophrenic lady, sitting in front of me dreaming happily about what they'd do if somebody gave them a hundred dollar bill. An anonymous freelance philanthropist had been making local news recently for giving $100 bills to homeless people. It was not a lot of money really, not enough to get out of homelessness, but in another sense it certainly was a lot of money. One of them planned how he would make the money last, the other dreamed how he'd buy new sneakers and treat all his friends to hamburgers. He'd be a rich man for a day.
This was a span of about 20 minutes 10 years ago, and I doubt I will ever forget not having gotten the extremely nice lady some lotion for her hands. She was the one who gave me the gift of sharing her story and her world with me, and being so grateful just that I was interested and telling me so sincerely what a nice lady I was. I swear, she said that (she was crazy after all). And yet, like the schizophrenic people I've known since, clearly not crazy at all. But I so wish she'd actually asked me for lotion. All I gave her was 80 cents to take the bus tho Goodwill and back.
It can be very hard to give, but also very hard to beg. I'm facing some issues that require me to do that right now. It's humbling.
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