Quickly, a stray thought

Something very odd happened today.

In front of the PetCo in Montclair, a guy in a wheelchair came rolling over to me. “Excuse me, miss, I’m homeless and hungry and I need help.”

I said, “I’ll buy you lunch at the McDonald’s over there, but I won’t give you money.”

“I don’t have a problem with that.”

“Wait here, I just need to pick something up quick.”

“Okay.”

When I came back, he was waiting for me under the shade of a tree, with half a granola bar hanging out of his mouth. It was…not the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.

“You ready?” I say. “We’ll walk over.”

“Yeah,” he says, around the granola bar. “You go get it. I’ll wait here.”

“No way, man. You can come with me or lose the lunch.”

Here in my brain there is a nasty refrain: Maybe you should consider working for a change. I didn’t like the way it made me feel.

“Aw, c’mon,” he says. “I’ve been wheeling around in this wheelchair all day.”

“No,” I say. “Let’s go.”

I’m doing that thing I joke about, the small angry Asian woman mouth, where your lips compress but the rest of your face stays the same, like it’s been Botox’ed, and I’m glad this is happening kind of fast because I am about to think up and then say something really mean to the guy, but he relents and we go across to parking lot to the McDonald’s where I buy him what he wants and then leave, not even waiting for him to get the order. I just hand him the receipt and say “good luck,” and I walk out. He calls “Thank you,” to me, and I tell him he’s welcome.

And on my way out, I think to myself, “Damn. I shoulda bought him a bottle of water. It’s going to be so hot today.”

I am thinking about a lot of things after that interaction. I am thinking about grace and gratitude. I am thinking about philanthropy and charity, and how it can so quickly feel misplaced. I am thinking maybe most of all about hope and how it springs eternal: Maybe next time that guy won’t be so cocky, and maybe next time I’ll remember a bottle of water for the hot summer days.

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

5 Responses to Quickly, a stray thought
  1. Awesome post @gooddirt! Well, I encounter this situation every week when I’m downtown, since the 80s, and I’ve had a lot of experiences; I’ve been scammed, seen other people being scammed, and I’ve had exquisite touches. For me, someone asking me for money confronts me with existential reality, or perception of reality, and I don’t think that’s unusual. My understanding is that no one is owed anything by the universe/god/whatever. And none of us get “reality”; I think there’s so much more than we recognize. Anyway, I own that when I decide to give someone something, I am giving it because I want to. I pay attention to the person’s energy; I rarely give to people who feel entitled or angry because I think no one owes them anything; these people aren’t *asking*, they’re demanding. I have never asked for money, but I have hitch-hiked thousands and thousands of KM, and I experienced, over and over, how my energy affected my rides. I think it’s the same thing here. Even if I don’t have cash on me, I usually give the person a kind word because that is an exchange of energy, and that can help them feel better (and ask better and get more money). I think it can feel very lonely, asking for money, so a touch, a smile, can be priceless. I’ll close with another thing I do. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I carry around half-dollar coins and give them to anyone who asks, without judgment. That has given me many beautiful discoveries. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Yi Shun Lai says:

      I very much appreciate these sentiments, Chris. I was definitely in a hurry, and I’ll own that my energy may have been considerably less positive than I wanted it to be. You’ve given me good advice to carry around, much like your half-dollar coins. Thanks for that.

  2. Wendy Wahman says:

    What an interesting exchange, Yi Shun and lots to think about here. When I was in my 20s, I was walking along the railroad tracks (as I liked to do in those days), and met a hobo. Yes, a hobo. He was small, carried a big bag on his back and had jumped off a train recently. We got to talking. Talking and walking. He was sort of shy and polite and so was I. I thought, why is he any different from me, except he doesn’t go home to an apartment. I considered offering him my living room floor for the night — but glad I didn’t. That’s that young and stupid thinking. He would have been no more comfortable being there than I would be. At one point he said, “You take good care of yourself, don’t you Wendy.” I thought about that and again compared us. He had few teeth. I had a great smile. My hair was clean and my clothes mostly so. He was dirty head to toe. He said he worked as a carny. He said he did any kind of work he could find. I did freelance graphics. Again… I compared.

  3. Kathleen says:

    The lunch offer was great even if hasty. Sometimes people just need to tell their stories, so when you have time, sit and listen. I’m part of a group that serves dinner the last week of each month, when food stamps run out. Many come as much for the companionship as the food.

  4. John Brantingham says:

    That’s a fascinating exchange. It’s interesting and honest. It’s interesting that he wanted that service and I love the human things you’re thinking about through it all!

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