I know a man in town who’s habit it is to carry in his wallet, money which he gives to those he meets that are in need. He rarely leaves his home without checking a special pocket in the back of his leather billfold to ensure that there is some assortment of ones, fives, tens and twenties available for those who ask.
When asked how he determines who is worthy of these special dispensations he will reply that anyone who asks him is worthy. It makes no difference their appearance, or circumstance, for who is he to judge another human being? If they are in need and he can help he sees this simply as his obligation, his opportunity, and, he would add, his benefit and blessing. “For what gift can we give that we don’t receive as much in return, to our own benefit, in the way of spiritual rewards: joy, peace, goodwill…”
It had been some time since he had crossed paths with anyone in need on the street corners or parking lot exits where one typically finds them, and he was feeling sorrow because of this, and a great need to find someone to help. So on this particular day he drove north to the Trader Joes parking lot where there is usually a man, or a woman or even a whole family waiting for someone to help them. Today he found a young man, bundled in blankets, sitting on the sidewalk in the rain, rocking back and forth and muttering unknown things to himself. He was clutching in his hands a pipe and lighter and looking up at the sky. When the man approached him and offered him the money, he barely took notice but just continued rocking back and forth and staring into the distance. He wished the young man a peaceful day and hopes for a warm bed tonight, gave him the money, and returned to his truck.
As he told it to me later, while approaching the young man, he considered how much of his money to give him, and while he doesn’t withhold money from anyone in need, he also doesn’t want his contributions to be used by others to hurt themselves. This young man clearly looked like he could choose to use the money for drugs rather than food. Perhaps he should have bought the boy food instead, as he sometimes does, but in this case he thought it better to give eleven dollars, enough for a warm meal, but not so much that it could be too harmful should the child choose to go that route. He prayed that the young man would make a wise choice with the money he had been given.
I asked him if this was the end of his adventures for the day and he replied that no, in fact there was a second part of his calculation when deciding what to give the young man: how much to hold back, to have ready to give the next person who he felt certain he would find that day. The next person would need quite a bit more, he believed, so he kept closer to eighty dollars ready in his wallet after leaving the young man.
“This is very generous,” I exclaimed.
“Don’t get the wrong impression. I am a selfish man,” he replied. “I really am, my wife has reminded me of this many times and it is true. For all the good you seem to think you see me doing here, there are plenty more occasions where I display complete disregard for anyone but myself. In fact, in truth, this is how I live most of my life. But hopefully I will change.”
He continued his story, “the next person I found a bit farther south, standing on the corner near Costco, holding a sign and clutching a crutch under each arm. His legs were badly deformed and he had trouble maneuvering in the rain, as his crutches slipped on the concrete. As I approached him I could see he had a fighting spirit and also a gentle spirit. I was immediately impressed with him, and wanted to know more about him. I introduced myself and suggested he might have better luck up the street on the corner near the Seventy-Six gas station because there was a pull-out there where cars could get out of traffic and more easily give him money. He didn’t know the area well, and hadn’t stood asking for money in quite a while but he had sudden expenses and not enough for rent and he was in danger of losing his home. His roommate was too afraid to stand asking for money because of bad experiences with others yelling at him and throwing things at him in the past. But he didn’t mind these things, one just does what they have to do. I gave him the handful of money and he pocketed it gratefully.”
“What was the matter with his legs, did you ever find out?” I asked.
“Yes. He has cerebral palsy. His eyes are also very crossed and as he explained to me he has troubles with incontinence and therefore has to wear ‘Depends’ all the time. And I must tell you when he confessed this I almost wept. He said it so plainly, without shame and also without any self-consciousness whatsoever. He might as well have been telling me what he had for breakfast. I can’t explain it but the simplicity of that humbled me tremendously and my admiration for him grew. ‘The body does what the body does, you just have to take care of it’ he said to me. I wish I could have conveyed the naturalness of this statement in the way he said it. It was truly tremendous, no artifice, no mannerism that would suggest any of the issues I might have, were I the one needing the diapers. I’ve heard it said that humility is just being who we are honestly, naturally. I have rarely, if ever seen a clearer example of genuine humility and it was beautiful. He then commented that in fact he had used his diaper there and needed to find a bathroom soon where he could change it for a new pair and this is why, he explained, that he kept an extra pair of pants with him and additional ‘Depends’ in the bag he carried while he asked for money on the street corner.”
“How horrible,” I exclaimed, “I feel so badly for him.”
“That’s just it. He didn’t need my pity. And he didn’t feel badly for himself either. He seemed to take all of this in stride, with a calm and peace I have only seen in animals. Have you noticed your pet, or a deer for instance when it has been injured, they don’t complain, in fact you hardly will know if your puppy has an ailment, he doesn’t tell you and he takes it all patiently. Have you noticed that? I have, and it always impresses me. Of course this man is not an animal, and I don’t want this comparison to be taken the wrong way. I mean it as high praise. He seemed to transcend the common man’s turmoils and complaints about his daily life, and bear them all, including great insult, with amazing patience and endurance. But what I wanted to tell you is that while we stood there together on the corner, I told him that I hoped he’d be able to get enough money for his rent, so that he could keep his home. And do you know what he said? He said, ‘Oh, I will. God will provide for me.’ Well, that in itself isn’t surprising, you hear that often enough, but he said it with a faith unfeigned, and as a simple statement of fact, as I was beginning to understand was his custom. Now, I hear this statement fairly often, and, in fact, I’ve said it myself many times, but he said it in a different way than I usually hear it said, not in order to convince himself, or to convince his audience at all, in fact there was absolutely no convincing needed at all. He merely said what was so, and what would happen. That’s it. He would get the money and God would provide, and there wasn’t any reason for concern. Bravo! Oh, how I admired him in almost every way! And, I envied him, unfortunately. I’m ashamed to say it, but I did envy him his faith. I wish I could have only admired him, and found inspiration by him, because envy is a nasty thing, isn’t it? I say it is a nasty sand-trap on the golf course of life, you don’t want to hit yourself into that. No, it is more like quicksand, envy is; before you know it you’re in over your head and you can lose yourself.”
“Was that it then? Did you both go your own ways? You must have had to get back to work by this time, and you had already spent quite a bit of time with this man and also the young man in the blanket,” I said.
“Well he asked to be pointed to a nearby restaurant if I knew one, as he was getting hungry and needed to sit and rest his legs. And he also asked if I knew where he could get new rubber points for the ends of his crutches as he went through those every few days and the current ones he had were worn through. I happily offered him a ride to a medical supply store I knew of just a couple miles up the road, so we drove off together.”
“Did you feel like he was using you a little by this time?” I asked.
“Not at all! And so what if he was. But no I didn’t.”
“I might have felt uncomfortable having him in my car, and also taking so much time now out of my day.”
“Yes, well, he said he trusted me, so he was comfortable getting in the truck with me. I was looking at the time though and raced through, in my mind, all of the things I still needed to do for the day, and how far behind I had already become. Could I afford to take him to get these supplies? Oh how dreadful I am sometimes. This man could barely walk, hardly had a dime to his name, has to suffer the ignominy of wearing diapers, and is clearly socially outcast in most of life’s social settings, and I’m worried about my errands. I became nauseous then, literally sick to my stomach, because I saw myself and how narrow and small I was…contrasts are terrible aren’t they, helping us to see and understand; I mean, a light is brighter at night, isn’t it, and sound travels so well through silence. Well, performing this act of caring for him was highlighting how little I do for others, most of the time. And the worst thing is even with this realization, I hardly wanted to change. I still wanted to focus on my espressos, enjoying lunch with friends, surrounding myself with luxuries and beautiful things. I didn’t want to enter into his life for very long. It scared me, and depressed me, and overwhelmed me actually.”
“That is understandable.”
“Yes, well, so we went to the medical supply store and I bought him the new rubber tips he needed for his crutches, and also new rubber handles that went over the metal posts where he gripped the crutches and a packet of ‘Depends’. And he used the bathroom at the store to change himself and then I took him to the hamburger place across the street and dropped him off so he could get a meal and then he called and arranged for a friend to come pick him up there so I could go on my way. As he got out of my truck and we said our farewells I thanked him. This seemed to take him aback and he asked why I was thanking him. I couldn’t really explain to him why, but you understand.”
“And so that was it then? A good day I’d say by any measure. You helped two people in need and had quite an adventure at the same time.”
With that, we finished our espressos, the man and I, and we agreed to meet again soon, perhaps next week, to share another coffee and maybe a new adventure or two. He paid our tab and walked out the door into the rainy evening and I also began my walk home. Thinking over the story the man had just shared with me, I hoped to find someone myself to help. I had a few bucks in my pocket. But the streets were empty as I made my way, with nobody huddled under the streetlamps hoping for change, just the falling rain flickering under the golden lamplight. As the raindrops pattered overhead, onto my umbrella, I vowed to myself that if I had the good fortune to find someone in need tomorrow, I wouldn’t overlook or pass by my opportunity to help them.