I don’t pretend to understand. I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable. I am just telling this story, with my own thoughts and impressions included.
Statistics say there are over five thousand homeless people in Toronto.
He appeared out of nowhere on the crowded subway platform. In my memory, he was navy blue and unzipped coat and black toque and everything else ordinary. Bundled up, rather like I was. By the time I noticed him, he almost blended in with the group of people he had approached.
I couldn’t hear what he said, but as I saw him move to another group, I realized that he was, indeed, asking for money.
I hoped that he wouldn’t work his way back to us, because…
Well. My wallet was in my backpack that was on my back, and I didn’t even know if it had any cash in it.
And then I remembered that I had a looney in the pocket on my mitt. (Thanks, No Frills shopping cart system.)
I guess I was watching him, because our eyes connected, and I couldn’t tell if that meant he would come over or go to a different person.
But he came, quiet and ordinary and expressionless. I think that something in me wanted him to, now that I knew I had something to give.
“Nickels? Dimes?” I forget exactly what he said, but I remember those words.
“Yes,” I said, and took off my mitts to unzip the pocket that contained the looney.
Except that I had to check the pocket on both mitts, because I couldn’t remember which one it was in, and my initial squish of the mitts didn’t seem to reveal the whereabouts of the looney.
To make things worse, I felt that rush of air that announces the subway’s arrival. PANIC.
There we were, us two humans, standing there with my fumbling, mitt-musty hands between us.
He stood waiting, calm.
The subway came and I managed to extricate the looney (plus a dime) from my glove.
He nodded as he took them.
And then I crammed onto the subway with the masses, and he….
I guess I don’t know what he did next.
I felt ashamed of myself. Of my giving.
Because there I was, gliding along, feeling glad that I had given a looney, instead of just the nickel or dime that he had asked for.
Because we had made eye contact, and I was afraid of what he had seen on my face and in my eyes.I honestly don’t know what was there. What had my face shown?
I wanted to know…
What he actually needed.
I wanted to know…
How the situation had seemed to him.
His face hadn’t revealed a single thing to me.
I don’t think that I will ever be able to see a homeless person asking for money without it hurting my heart.
I also don’t know if I will ever know what to do with that hurt.
I am quick with all the usual excuses.
“I only have a looney. It’s almost embarrassing to just give a looney, when the need is clearly greater than that..”
“I only have a twenty dollar bill. We can’t just go around handing out $20. We don’t actually have that many $20 of our own, after all.”
“That person looks a little too… crazy. I’m afraid to approach them.”
“That person looks a little too… normal. Do they truly need the money?”
And there seems to be no “in between”.
That good old, holy excuse, “By giving money, I may be enabling this person to pursue unhealthy habits and addictions.”
That excuse has never made me feel truly better, and I’m almost at the point where I think it’s just….
Here’s where I’m at:
My few dollars probably aren’t going to make or break someone’s addiction. I think it’s better to give.
Yes, it could harm…
but it also might help.
There’ll be a second blog post coming sometime this week with another story about giving. Stay tuned! In the meantime, how do you handle giving (money, or otherwise) to homeless people? What would Jesus have us do? How do we show love?