I'm not sharing this information to receive accolades from folks. Rather, I am sharing the inner turmoil that went on regarding this decision.
I rely on my intuition (inner voice) big time. It has saved me many times or at the very least helped me to avert a difficult situation. It has led me to a particular line in the grocery store where I found it obvious that the cashier needed a few minutes of pleasant conversation. It happens a lot. It also has helped me overcome my fears by "diving in" or "taking the next step." This happened today.
I had gone to the vet to pick up more medicine for the dogs. (If you follow me on facebook, you know this is sort of becoming a routine that I wish would come to an end.) I decided I wanted to get Wendy's for lunch. As I turned off of Route One onto Gorman Rd. I saw an apparently "homeless" man sitting on the median strip. Immediately it jumped into my head "buy him lunch."
Let me tell you, a thousand thoughts and self doubt popped into my head. The old tapes began playing. You don't really know if he is homeless. He could be a con man. He could be a drug addict looking for money to buy more drugs. He could be an alcoholic wanting to buy more alcohol. What about the traffic? What if the light isn't red when I get there? What if he is no longer there when I get there? It's out of my way to go back to Route One.
Well, you get the idea. No matter what this man's situation, he could use a hot meal. But what if lots of people had already bought him one today?
I struggled with my inner turmoil. Just do it. You really feel it is the right thing to do. What's the worse that could happen? You end up with an extra meal. He can always put it in his back pack for later. It's not that far out of your way. Just do it.
I discovered something about myself. I am a giver -- that's not new. But .... I am also a "behind the scenes" type of individual. I will collect food for the food bank. I will pick a family (or students, or from a giving tree) to give during the Holiday season. All that is good, but it is not interacting with the actual individuals. It's practically anonymous. And it's not really because I don't want people to know it was "me." It is because it removes me from the pain of DEEPLY accepting there is this kind of pain right in my own village. I don't have to "deal with" the people that come to the food bank. (By the way, I am thinking of doing that soon.)
Growing up we were fairly poor. My father worked three jobs to put all six of us through Catholic school. We were definitely taught to "give to the poor" and to "donate to the needy." Unfortunately we were also taught the messages that "We are better than them" and "They are not to be trusted." "They probably use drugs."
As an adult I have learned that a lot of homeless people have some form of untreated mental illness. It could be bipolar, PTSD, schizophrenia, alcoholism, drug addiction, or depression just to name a few. They could also just be down on their luck. Life is expensive. Most of us are one medical emergency from landing in a heap of trouble. I could go on and on about how or why someone is homeless, but the reason doesn't really matter. Homeless people ARE people. Some are dangerous. Some are friendly. Some are despondent. But they are all people.
Prior to today, I never really spent any time talking to anyone I suspected was homeless. I used to keep granola bars in the van for our trips into Baltimore. I cannot kick one teaching I have heard over and over again. DO NOT GIVE THEM MONEY because you don't know what they will buy with it (drugs, alcohol, cigarettes). So I would give them granola bars and once a pair of gloves. But it was all done as a drive by.
Jumping around a bit, here is a story about one trip into Baltimore. I was taking Eric to see his audiologist. It had snowed recently and the sidewalks and streets were a little icy. I made the decision to have Eric sit in the front seat so he could get out curbside when we got there. He has cerebral palsy and uses forearm crutches. As it turns out all of the sidewalks had mounds of snow up against them from the snowplows clearing the streets. I couldn't figure out how to get Eric out. I opened the door and took his crutches from him. I then proceeded to help him get over the snow mound. Lots of people walked by. Suddenly there was an older gentleman who grabbed hold of Eric's left arm. I had his right arm. Between the three of us we were able to get him over the mound of snow and safely on the sidewalk. We thanked him, of course. By time we got ourselves together and had locked the van, the man had moved on. We considered the fact that perhaps he was an angel to have disappeared so quickly. He appeared homeless and Eric really wanted to give him money for a hot cup of coffee or a hot meal. He was nowhere to be found.
Maybe today was my chance to pay it forward. Maybe it was just time to overcome my fear of interacting with the homeless. (No worries, I don't plan on walking down any dark alleys alone.) Today, I pulled up and the light was red. I rolled down my window and held out the Wendy's bag. "I bought you lunch," I said. Then I handed him the drink. He responded, "Oh what have you done. You didn't have to do that. The drink is really appreciated." The light remained red. I told him I really liked his red guitar. It was laying face down on the ground. He picked it up to show me and said he had gotten it at the pawn shop down the street. It only had TWO strings, but it made him happy. He played me a little diddy. The light was still red. The woman behind me honked her horn. He quickly apologized and said, "I don't want to hold you up." I glanced at the light and said, "It's still red, I'm not sure why she is beeping." I looked in my rearview mirror and realized she was holding out a dollar for him. I said, "Look, she has money for you. You don't want to miss that."
Then I realized, once again, kindness is contagious. It doesn't have to cost much, or really anything at all. A simple, "Have a good day," goes far. I am NOT better than the homeless man ... but I do have it better. The first time is the hardest. I hope I am brave enough to do this again. Maybe many more "agains."