The woman, crying, approached my car with a sense of urgency. I was grid-locked in the midst of mass exodus as students fled from an evening’s worth of classes. The college parking lot was emptying slowly, so I thought the distressed woman may have been having car troubles. As I rolled down my window the woman began a quick monologue about her need for money. She was holding a velvet-flocked box in her hands and tearfully said I could have it if I would help her. Inside was a metallic bell—one that looked inscribed, but it was too dark to see for sure. She told me her children were hungry and if she could just get enough money for gas she could take them to a shelter. I was feeling sorry for her until she made the comment that judging from my car I could afford to help her out. That bothered me. A lot. It was a snap judgment that lacked foundation. I drive an Audi TT. Years ago my husband and I set a goal that I would get my dream car once I graduated with my four-year degree. For four years we planned, saved, and worked for the car. Last spring we found a used TT that fit all our bullet-points on the wish list, and I’ve been happily driving it ever since. My TT wasn’t a whim or a reflection of reckless spending.
Once again she thrust the box at me and begged for help. My first thought was to offer to take her to campus security. If she was in dire straits perhaps they had the resources to get her to a shelter. My second thought brought me to a story I had heard a while back:
A group of seminary students were taking their all-day final exam. At noon they were told they would have an hour for lunch, and then would resume the exam. The students left with the full range of emotions a difficult task brings. Upon returning from lunch the instructor told them they were free to go home. All had failed. “But we haven’t even finished taking the test!” they protested. “Ah, but you did,” he replied. “Outside the lunch area we had a man disguised as a beggar. Do you remember seeing him? He was asking for any kind of handout you could spare. Not one of you stopped to talk to him or offered assistance. How can you be a conduit of God’s love when you walk right by those in need?”
My brain told me the woman was probably pan-handling because her story was iffy at best. My heart said I should remain open and lend a hand if I could. I gave her some money, and was offended when she asked if I could spare more. I said no, and that, by the way, I didn’t like being judged by the car I drove. She apologized and wandered off to the next student’s car waiting to exit the parking lot. As I drove home my feelings continued to muddle around me. Had I been taken advantage of? Was I perpetuating a behavior not welcomed on campus? Does my heart make me a target? I decided if it should happen again I would direct the person to better resources available on campus. If she was truly looking to go to a shelter there are hotlines listed on campus. What do you think? Should we reach out with love, or retreat with distrust? Where are lines drawn? Will we end up ignoring those who are truly troubled because of those who take advantage? I just don’t know. But I pray my donation helped in some way, shape, or form.
Euro 2012 Football Tournament says
Chapman Cohen: “Gods are fragile things they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense.”
I think you pose a wonderful question here. I wish I knew the answer! I’m slowly learning to be more generous with money- I think there’s a lot to be said for someone who gives instead of hoarding it in fear that there’s not enough, etc. I try to push through my instinct to save at all costs, but it’s tough.
I digress- the real story I wanted to share is the one time I was really touched by someone begging. I was probably 16 at the time and walking through the streets of Paris with my French class. We were warned about beggars, and it was our choice on whether or not to help. There was one particular woman of Arab descent with a child that I passed while walking, and our eyes locked. We both were a little teary as I was pulled away by my classmates. To this day, I wish I would have given her money. I’ve never had a moment like that again, and I haven’t given any money to someone living on the streets. Seeing people with dogs or children always makes me cringe, and I hope that I can have the courage to at least see what I could do to help in the future like you mentioned. Bringing someone food or directing them to help is something I think I’d be more comfortable with than giving money in some situations.
I agree with you, Amanda. If a person is truly in need he or she should be agreeable to accepting help in more forms than a monetary donation. In Chicago there are a lot of street people asking for handouts or trying to sell a newspaper printed from–supposedly–homeless shelters. I ache when I walk by them shaking my head, “no.” However, I’ve been told that panhandlers will proliferate if we give them money. Instead it is better to direct them to the charities and systems that are equipped to handle their needs. The money I might give will be quickly spent, but if they can get them to a shelter they may have a chance for resources far greater and more helpful. My friend Claudia, who has her doctorate in psychology, says the majority of street people are schizophrenic souls no longer supported by government programs within mental hospitals and so on. They’ve been cast adrift and left to fend for themselves on the streets.That doesn’t make them dangerous per se, but it does mean they need help beyond the little bits of charity I could offer. Truth be told I have offered food to those with signs saying they are hungry and homeless. They’ve turned me down with a wrinkled nose. Food isn’t what they really want. I wish it was different…I wish I could give a ride to a hitchhiker and know my life wouldn’t be at risk, I wish I could offer food to those in dire need instead of feeling guilty for doing nothing much at all. But we live in a complicated world. For now I choose to donate money to the food shelves and other charity outlets and hope it makes a tiny bit of difference. Nice to hear from you Amanda!