On my way from Starbucks to my car, I overheard a guy sitting on some steps ask a passerby, Do you have some change, a dollar to spare?
The passerby continued walking. I turned and said, Are you hungry? Can I get you something?
The guy was bedraggled, dirty, unkempt. His hair was a matted mess, his skin color was hiding under layers of grime and dirt. Yet his eyes were piercing.
He answered, Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to get right now, something to eat.
I said, Okay, I’ll be right back, and headed to the pho joint next door. I ordered fried rice with an egg on top, couple of dumplings on the side, and milk tea. When the order was complete, I walked out juggling everything (I had my own water bottle and coffee mug).
He was sitting right where I’d left him. I handed over the food and drink, and said I hoped he liked it. He thanked me. I asked his name and he asked me mine. Doug. He extended his hand as a greeting and immediately looked like he wished he hadn’t. I think he felt bad about offering a dirty body part to a stranger. I shook it anyway.
I fished around thinking I had some cash for his next meal, but I remembered they were in my other pants’ pocket. He mentioned he needed bus fare. I don’t know how true that is, but I wished I had something to give him.
I walked away, wishing him luck and a good day. As much as that’s such a paradoxical statement, to wish a homeless hungry guy a good rest of his day, I wanted him to feel human.
As I started driving through the parking lot, I remembered I needed to pull cash for something the next day so I swung by the ATM in the same parking lot. As I approached the ATM, I knew what I wanted to do. My conscience battled me – Are you sure you’re not being foolish? You’re unemployed, you really need to watch where your money is going.
But I’m stubborn. And I feel that, in every single way, I have more than enough to give, even if I don’t have much. I’m lucky to have what I have. I didn’t want to spend my life counting and recounting what’s in my bank account. I believe the universe / God provides and he provides when I live like he does. And there’s more than enough for everyone.
I pulled out 20 bucks more than my original amount and walked over to where Doug was. I wondered if he would still be there. Yep.
He looked surprised that I came back. I walked up, gave him the cash, and said, This is for you, your bus fare and your next meal.
His eyes widened and he broke into a bit of a smile and said, Aww thank you Grace, you are awesome.
He then went on to ask if I could do him a favor. My eyebrows raised. I asked what. He asked if I could get him a knee brace from the Target nearby. I felt my guard rise. I felt like he was taking advantage now.
This was one of the reasons I didn’t like getting involved with people asking for handouts. I felt like I always had to decide between my ego and my conscience. Granted, they are in need and I am not as in need. But I felt uncomfortable because now I was balancing on the thin line between being open and willing to help, and gullible. It felt like I had an obligation to serve, at the expense of my own safe space and dignity.
It’s hard, to be honest. Where do you draw the line? What is my dignity really worth in the face of a hungry and hurt person?
He sensed my hesitation, and thanked me for the cash again. Something shifted and he let go of asking me to get him the knee brace. As I turned to go, I again wished him a good rest of his day and that I hoped the food was to his liking.
I walked away feeling nothing. I didn’t feel nice or generous or kind or anything. I felt human. I felt human for feeling enough for another to do something about it. It didn’t make me special. This is what humans do. We are here for each other. It’s not like I changed his life or did something drastic. I felt human for doing what I could with what I had. And that was enough. It always is.