I don’t donate to charity regularly. I don’t like to stop and talk to people asking for money to give to whatever organization. I’m not in the habit of passing money to homeless people on the street. Honestly, I don’t really know why. Maybe I think I can’t afford it, or I grab on to the stereotype that they are going to use it on alcohol or drugs. I tell myself I give back through my work at a non-profit (except, I get paid for my work, so I am also benefiting). Mostly, I am uncomfortable opening my wallet to pull out money, maybe because it highlights the fact that I have and they do not have. And that is a reality that is hard to reconcile. I feel like, to really face the fact, I would need to give everything. So instead, I give nothing.
There’s a homeless man that has been hanging out nearby my house lately. I’ve seen him a number of times hunkering down on the stoop of the business next door to my home, with a blanket covering his shoulders. He’s young, quiet, appears harmless, and wears an expression of suffering and extreme fatigue, as if he is fighting an eternal war with the voices in his head. I’ve heard him screaming at night, repeating at the top of his lungs in a agonizing voice, “Father, why have you forsaken me?!”
He recently approached me while I was in the middle of getting my 3-year-old son into his car seat, and asked me if I had money to spare so he could get something to eat. I reacted without thinking, in my habit of not giving, and my instinct of wanting to protect my son from a person who may be unpredictable, and I denied his request.
I felt awful after that. Here is this man, who is obviously ill, and in need, who humbled himself enough to ask for my help. Here I am, having everything I need, mentally stable (at least I think I am), healthy, and unwilling to share. I often complain about the illness of greed that drives the wealthiest to hold on to their wealth. How am I any different than them, when I cannot even spare a few dollars for this man to get some lunch? I believe we are all connected and need to help one another, but in practice, I don’t want any of those “undesirable elements” near my family or my home.
I have become exactly like the people I despise.
Something about this particular homeless man opened my eyes to that discrepancy between my ideals and my actions. Maybe because I started to see him as a neighbor, or maybe it is the aura of gentleness that surrounds him, but I am thankful to him. A few days later, I saw him again, and I gave him some money, and I apologized.
I want to teach my son compassion, non-judgment, and generosity; not fear and greed.
Last night, my husband told me a story that made me cry about a homeless man approaching him early one morning. The man came up to him, and asked him about his Roland bag. I guess Roland is a brand for a guitar synthesizer or something like that, and this homeless man knew that. My husband is a mortgage broker, but also a musician. I suppose he was touched that this homeless man knew this random fact that only a musician would know, because he opened up his wallet and handed the man a $50 bill.
I was shocked at this story. Yes, he was making good money at the time, when the housing market was booming (and no, he was never one of those corrupt mortgage brokers, I promise), but still, $50 is a lot of money to hand out. I asked my husband to explain, and he said, “The guy was like a brother.” He then said, that with this eye condition that he has (retinitis pigmentosa, which makes him completely blind in the dark), he always needs a lot of help. He knows exactly what that feels like, to be in need. And in this moment, it gave him great joy to help another person in need.
I am so happy that this man is the father of my child.
Connectedness in action. Humanity as one family. A great concept, and amazing practice. Giving to others, for me, is about expanding my heart. The joy that I receive when I practice generosity is more rewarding that anything I have to give. I am enveloped in warmth, connection, and faith that there will always be enough.
- Photo of NYPD cop giving boots to homeless man a big hit on Facebook (theprovince.com)