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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Can You Spare Some Change?

Today I had to eat some humble pie, but don't tell my wife.

We decided to take a trip. As part of the trip we took a short ride down an exit ramp off of the Interstate to get into the town that we marked as our destination. At the end of the ramp've all seen them....someone standing there with a sign that said something to the effect of "Homeless and Hungry."

I always hate the see people like this it makes several thoughts go through my head- 1.) Where did they manage to get the materials needed to make the sign? 2.) Why do they always position themselves in places that invoke the guilt of whoever purposely ignores them as they sit in their cars. 3.) Why, if you decide to help them, are you forced to make such a short notice decision? 4.) Isn't there something better that could be done about this?

What made this even worse is that we were on our way to a restaurant to meet some friends for lunch. How does that not drive a nail into the coffin of your excuse factory?

My wife felt compelled to do something to try and help the situation but I was driving. My rational was admittedly bi-polar. I was faced with the fact that on the one hand I am all about being as charitable as possible when the opportunity arises and makes the most sense. On the other hand though, I have a very hard time just handing out money to someone that looks like they need it. To me it is always so much more practical to help someone by doing something for them or assisting them in helping themselves rather than just throw money at the issue. So that was my rational; we were not in a position to help in a way that seemed to make the biggest difference so I would rather keep the money.

My wife, however, still felt compelled to do something. I won't call her expression of thoughts at this point "nagging" but she was definitely intent on making sure that I understood what her desire was for the person hanging out with their sign at the bottom of the off ramp. I also then started to get more upset with her the longer she talked about it because I felt like I would either finally be guilted into doing what I didn't want to do....or end up being the bad guy for putting my foot down and saying that my decision to not help out was final. But again, the conflict in my logic was raging and I started to feel like the ass.

I finally decided to [grudgingly] drive back down to the nearest spot possible for parking so that I could go do my "good deed" for the day. By this time my wife had already pulled an envelope of cash out of thin air that we could use to accomplish the task.

I drove down the street, parked the van and then began to head on foot through the snow....across the entrance ramp.....through some more snow and mud on the side of the road that went under the overpass....and finally made my way up to what was now 2 people at the end of the off ramp.

What am I doing? What does this look like? What will others think I am out here doing? Is there anyone living under this bridge? What if these people are cons? What are my chances of getting run over or somehow killed as part of this? I hope my wife is happy? I hope my kids understand what I am doing? What do these people look like? What will they think of me?

As I approached, the original person that I saw standing there continued to hold his sign but the second person who was sitting there on some bags noticed me coming and they stood up and joined the other one. I then got close enough to notice that it was a woman there with the man. She noticed and acknowledged me by saying hello. Now there was no turning back.

Why am I doing this? Isn't there any other way to get them help? Is this the only thing that I can do?
And then with a blink it hit me.

This is what I can do; at least today and right now with these folks. I don't have any other options but am I willing to do at least this much? What if they don't get anything else today? I may be the only charity that they see all weekend, do I want to be responsible for ignoring a need like this? Does their situation really need to matter to me as much as their immediate need?

I gave them the money and talked with them for a minute before heading back to the van.

I wanted to say something snide to my wife earlier about her idea of giving them money being so "Democrat-like" if just throwing money at a problem was going to help it....but I realized on my walk back that it would have been a foolish statement. This wasn't political it was personal. These were people.

I don't write this to put any spotlight on me or my family and what we did....but rather just to stop and ponder what our motives and intentions are behind what we either pursue or ignore. I can't tell anyone who is reading this what is right or wrong about their decisions, I can only say that my original intent was wrong today and now I stand corrected; and because of that I am not sure whether I did them a favour.....

Maybe those two homeless people did the favour for me.

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