I got told off today, by a complete stranger.
The incident made me cry, for him as much as for me. And for all the ‘hims’ out there. Let me explain…
I was walking to the supermarket, wrapped up warm against the clear, starry ColdDark, the kind which promises frost later, and I saw the lady who often panhandles outside the library opposite. She was wrapped in her blankets, with her arm around her dog, chatting to a passer-by. I was pleased, because it meant someone had actually stopped to give her the time of day.
I was in a hurry (had to pee!) so rather than follow my usual pattern of asking whether she wanted anything from the shop, I took out my purse and found £1 to give her. Just one, because all sorts of reasons.
I scurried over to her, gave her the money, she smiled and thanked me, and I scurried away towards the light, warmth, and promise of public bathrooms.
Mid-scurry, I was stopped by an oldish man, who intruded on my trajectory by asking,
“Did I just see you give money?”
I was annoyed. I needed to pee. It was none of his business.
“Firstly, it’s none of your business what I do with my money…” I began.
His eyes widened and a look of anxiety spread itself across his unkempt, whiskery face.
“But he’s using it to buy DRUGS!”
My hackles rose, my bladder twinged and I tersely finished my bi;
“…everyone’s hurting for *something*,” I told him, “and anyway, you’ve got to have compassion. You’ve GOT to have compassion.”
He shook his head and started to voice a protest, but I had already walked away, disgusted. Dejected. Maybe a bit embarrassed.
Mostly angry, because he hadn’t even stopped to see that the ‘he’ was a woman (I’m all for gender equality, but on the streets, women are significantly more vulnerable), because he’d dismissed the idea that she might use the money to buy, say, hot food, or a hostel space for the night – it HAD to be drugs, and because HOW DARE HE impose his ridiculous, ignorant judgements on my very meagre act of kindness.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to rage-buy her the whole stores-worth of food and provisions.
I wanted to go back and yell at him about all the awful things which happen to homeless people, and how almost NO-ONE would choose to be stuck outside with just their dog and a few blankets for warmth on a night like this, and that anyway, it was a fucking £1, and how many drugs did he think THAT was gonna buy? Not enough for her to forget whatever pain had put her on the streets, and more’s the pity!
I kept walking towards the bathrooms, instead of doing any of it. The voices of wise friends poured into my mind’s ear, providing soothing possibilities – if I’d been angry at him, it would have made the situation worse. Perhaps this way he would consider my actions and what I’d said. Perhaps he would pay attention and realise she was a woman, not a man, and that might challenge his preconceptions.
Perhaps he would find it in himself to have compassion.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…
Money, to a homeless person, can make a HUGE, life-altering difference. Yes, it can also get them drunk or high, enabling them to blot out the hurt of their world in ways which would be more socially acceptable if they could do it within the luxury surrounds of a nightclub. But it could buy them a meal. It could secure them a bed for the night. It could prevent them from needing to steal. It COULD SAVE THEIR LIFE.
We have NO way of knowing what they might spend it on. And no right to judge, anyway!
I continued to be upset as I did my shopping, spending ten times the amount I’d given, all the while thinking of the money I’m saving to try to move to America. The money I’m hoarding rather than doing good with. The money I earn through working and owe no-one (after Caesar).
The money I *could* use to make far more of a difference than I do. The money which, if I spent every penny of it, would disappear into the black-hole of human suffering without even touching the sides.
But then, it wasn’t even the money, or at least, not just the money. It was the hardness of his heart, which had hurt me. And the hardness of the hearts of all the ‘hims’ out there, who can come face to face with human suffering and dismiss it. And the hardness and hypocrisy of mine, which does likewise.
I do a little to help. At least I do a little. But do I do what I can? Do you?
We could all do more, but then, we could all do more forever and ever until the resources of our purses, our hearts, and our souls, became destabilized from giving our all.
We can’t do that.
But we CAN give our change. Or offer a sandwich, or a hot drink, or a smile, or the time of day. Even if we only make a difference to that one.
We can show compassion. We can live kindly.
We can act in the knowledge that Love Wins, and we’re helping it – we’re making it happen – because that small money, that small gesture, isn’t ‘spare change’; it’s VITAL change. And we can all use THAT kind of change.
Because here’s the thing – I gave a crappy £1, because it was what worked for me at the time. I *did* something. I even got a smile and a warm, genuine “thank you” in return.
I made a difference to that one.
So can you.
So here’s my challenge to you, and to me, and my battle cry: let’s give and be the change we CAN. Even if it doesn’t feel like it touches the sides. There will always be opposition – the immensity of the problem, or our resources and obligations, or the judgement of strangers, or anything, anything, anything – but we CAN make a difference. Let’s just do what we can.
We CAN do that.
Author Bio: Lizzi Lewis
Read more at Lizzi’s Blog