*Editor's Note: Mara is taking this week off of blogging, so we're running a "best-of" blog from about six months ago. Enjoy!
I’m not judging, just sharing.
But let me say this, I’ll bet that most every one of us at some point has been confronted with a person, down on their luck, holding out a hand and asking for our help — “excuse me sir/madam could you help me out with a little spare change?”
And a lot of us probably try to avoid those folks. We can spot them a mile away — a bit disheveled wondering from person to person and “begging,’’ for help to buy food, diapers, a bus ticket. When we see them, outside a store or on a street corner, we quicken our steps, look away and pretend to be pre-occupied. We try to hurry pass them before they even get the words out of their mouth. We know there are a lot of folks out there who for whatever reason are destitute, but we assume they want the money for drugs or alcohol. I’m guilty, and I’m not proud of it either. But heck sometimes when they open their mouth you can smell the alcohol - a mile away. You know what I'm talking about. But I'm not judging, right? If I had to resort to life on the street I might want to drown it all in some mind altering substance too. I don't know. My mama would say, judge not for least you be judged. I think that's how the saying goes.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. I remember that once on a family trip to Chicago my youngest, Jordan, had a hard time seeing all the homeless people on the street, hunkered down in doorways or laying on street grates to keep warm against the chilly Chicago wind. I remember him saying he hated Chicago. And when I asked why he said he didn’t like seeing all these poor homeless people. I told him to just keep walking. But he just couldn’t understand why there were people in America begging for food and living on the street.
We’d given him some spending money and before I realized what he was doing he’d given every penny of his allowance away — a dollar at a time — to the homeless people I had walked passed without even a thought.His dad had seen him and didn’t stop him. That’s because Jordan had gotten the gesture from his dad who he’d seen do the same thing many times before.
Ceaser, my late husband, was always stopping to talk with the homeless he ran into on the street. Most of the time he’d give them money or buy them lunch or coffee or if he were broke, which was often enough, just offer a kind word.
I’d always tell him not to give money because they were probably going to just use it for alcohol or something. He’d say he was assuming they were using it for what they said they needed it for — food — and that’s the spirit with which he was giving it.
I bring this up because this weekend I was on the telephone with my sister who lives in Long Island, N.Y. and she told me about her latest encounter with a down-and-out person.
She was on her way out of a grocery store, she said, and a woman walked up to her, “Hey sister can you help me? Do you have a little spare change?” the woman asked.
My sister said she just brushed passed the woman saying “no, no, I don’t have any money.” My sister proceeded to push her over-flowing cart of groceries to her beautiful Mercedes SUV (no that’s right she traded the Mercedes in for a Honda SUV) and fill her trunk. Then she jumped in to the driver’s seat, stuck the key in the ignition and froze.
“Wait a minute,” she thought to herself; “Did you really just rudely tell that woman you didn’t have any money?”
She said she thought about Ceaser and that her brother-in-law would never have done something like that. She said she actually felt ashamed of herself. And felt like Ceaser would be disappointed in her.
Here she was, having just filled her trunk with all kinds of groceries and extras, and she couldn’t even spare some change (that she’d probably end up wasting on a Starbucks coffee down the road) for some one who looked like she really needed help.
My sister said she jumped out of her car and went back looking for the woman. She found her near the store’s front door, and walked up to her and apologized and handed her the three dollars she had stuffed haphazardly in her pocket.
Wow! I was so moved. Not just the simple act of kindness that my sister eventually offered, but because she had done it in the spirit of Ceaser. That she had been inspired by him, even in his death to be kinder, not judgmental.
I’m inspired now too. I know there are a lot of homeless people out there who are there because they are alcoholics and they are just going to take my hard-earned money and throw it away on a bottle of booze. But a lot of them really appreciate the help. If I’m going to give to folks on the street I have to give with the same spirit that Ceaser used to and the same spirit that Jordan gave and the same spirit that my sister gave; the simple, spirit of simple kindness. Who am I to judge?