Yesterday, as the sun was shining and I was driving through Philly in my new(ish) car with the windows down, pumping NPR through my top-o-the-line stereo, I had an experience that hasn’t left my mind.
A man, dressed in a neatly pressed blue button down shirt and clean khakis, stood outside of my window. He held a cardboard sign in his hands and he looked at me with pure fear in his eyes. His sign read:
Homeless Father of 2. Lost everything. Will work. Please help. God is great.
He opened his mouth to ask me something, and I stared straight ahead, ignoring him completely. That was wrong, and I feel completely ashamed at the fact that I would do such a thing. Whether this man was sincere in his plea, or his “story” was fiction, is beyond the point. Another human approached me in a time of need, a time of desperation, a time of vulnerability, and I ignored him.
I don’t think that I’m alone in this reaction.
I have strong feelings about how I help the homeless citizens that I encounter. I’m willing (and often do) purchase food, smokes, drinks, and other small items for someone when they ask me for change outside of the Wawa. I don’t give money. I never give money.
But can I do more? Should I do more? Is it my burden or theirs? If it’s mine, where do I draw the line?
I’m ashamed. I’m a father of two. I count my lucky stars every day that I have been given the opportunities that I have, but should I feel guilty about that success?
I don’t have the answers here, but I can continue to search for them. I will, however, work towards changing my interaction. Each person deserves to be treated equally, regardless of their situation in life. It is not my place to ignore someone asking for help, rather, respond to them with sincerity, like I would with anyone else. My answer may be “no” or it may be “Can I buy you something to eat?” But it will be an answer. Giving respect is the absolute very least that I can do, but it’s an important thing to do.
This father of two did not deserve my disrespect. No one deserves that disrespect.
We’re in this life together and treating each person with respect, even if it’s to tell them that you won’t help them, is an important step in our collective future.