There is a man D and I have regularly seen near our local shops who hangs around outside the bakery and asks people leaving for a ‘spare dollar’.
I have noticed him many times before but I don’t remember the first time I saw him. He has striking clear blue eyes and an unobtrusive manner. He’s clean and while not immaculately groomed, is certainly not what I would call unkempt.
There have been at least two occasions when I have been with D and waited in the car while D went in to buy bread and I’ve been glad to see him give some coins. However on two occasions when I have gone in either with the children or with them waiting in the car that he has asked me for spare money. I have each time quickly refused with a mumbled “No, sorry”. This has been an automatic and conditioned response because I am a compassionate person. I’m not sure why I have this unthinking response when anyone approaches me for anything (this includes people who door knock selling things, people asking for surveys in the shopping mall, even people giving free samples in the supermarket). I just always so “No.”.
Each time I had refused this man however, I drove away wishing I knew his story. Wishing I had not only given him money, but offered him a meal; and feeling disappointed in myself that when it really counted I didn’t do what I could have done. Feeling that I had rejected him and was cruel.
Last Sunday we were at the local shops to get fish ‘n chips for lunch and D had gone ahead with the our older two children and their friend and I stayed in the car not feeling too well, and waiting with baby R. I was just thinking to myself about this man and wondered how long it was since we’d seen him. A moment later I noticed him hunkered down outside the bakery. I sat for a moment watching him, but before really thinking too much about it I got R out of his car seat, and walked over to where he was. I stuck out my hand and said
“Hello, I’m E. I’ve seen you around here before.”
“Oh, I’m Danny.” He shook my hand and we started talking.
We ended up chatting for a while and I was able to ask a few questions about his situation.
You see, after driving away previous times I started to question why I have this immediate wall response to someone who is needy. The same thing happened to me in India and while on some occasions I gave to beggars, sometimes it was all to easy to just put up the defenses and walk on by.
I have decided that often I feel threatened by neediness. I think If I give this man some money, will he keep taking from me over and over and never go away. In India during my travels I justified my hardened heart with the old ‘the beggar is probably an unfortunate victim of organised crime and is owned by some greedy pimp like character and my giving will only put more money into that corrupt system‘ line. Here in the west I modify it to ‘the guy is probably just trying to scrounge the money to buy his next drink or satisfy a drug habit, and what did he do with the money the government gave him anyway?’ But you know what…I also came to the conclusion that I don’t know what it’s like to be so desperate that I have to humble myself to beg from strangers. I can’t imagine it would ever be easy to beg for money, and so for someone to be that desperate who am I to judge their motives and problems. You just never know what people are facing, and how they got there. Everyone has a story to tell.
I’m glad I talked to Danny. Now that there is a name to the face, I will no longer be able to just walk on by. I no longer feel threatened by this man’s neediness. I walked away full of hope that his life might one day get better. My faith in God, that sometimes seems to become overly complicated and hence ineffective in the world, was simplified. The simple power of the good news about Jesus to change lives. And you know what…it made me come alive!