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.”
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.