Thursday, July 5, 2012

At the door...Human nature

I recognized the guy at the door. He'd first stopped by several weeks earlier, at a loss after the death of his father. He'd been by a couple times since, and I'd given him a gift card for a meal and another for clothing at a local store. Worth maybe fifteen dollars total, which is not much when you're trying to dig yourself out of the hole of poverty. I knew he'd been looking for work for a while, and hadn't had success.

Now he had a bus schedule in hand, and a plan. "Look, it costs $17 to get to Seaside. Do you have any work around here I can do? Whatever, yard work, vacuuming, anything. If I can get to Seaside, my brother is there. I can stay with him, and he's got a job lined up for me if I can get there by tomorrow."

But I didn't have any work for him to do, and a phone call I made to scare something up found nothing available.

I did, however, have $20 in my wallet, fresh from the bank that morning.

I hesitated. It's difficult to know the right thing to do. I got out the $20.

He was incredulous, tears in his eyes, a grown man jumping up and down, "Really? Really? I'll pay you back, I swear I will!"

"Don't worry about it," I said. "I'm lucky enough to have a job; now you're going to have one too."

For obvious reasons, I don't make a habit of giving out my money to those who come to the door, but from time to time... I went back to my work after he'd left, feeling warm and fuzzy from a good deed done--and wondering how the heck the poor fellow was going to eat for the day on the leftover $3.

He'd had the same thought, and returned a hour later to ask for another $20. "Really, I promise I'll pay you back." I had another $20, just as fresh as the first, that could solve his hunger problem.

I hesitated. It's difficult to know the right thing to do. I said, "I'm afraid we've come to the end of what I can do for you."

"Okay," he said, "I'm really sorry to have to ask."

"And I'm really sorry to have to say 'no,'" I told him. This time when he left, my good deed didn't feel quite as warm or as fuzzy as it had.

It felt even worse a week later, when he knocked on the door again. "I thought you were going to Seaside," I said.

He coughed. "I got sick. I couldn't go. Could you help me out with one more of those gift cards?"

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  1. Oh Pat,  I think you did the right thing.  I'm so sorry that he couldn't also do the right thing.  It sounds like he genuinely had every intention to do so.  Please don't feel that you were made a fool of. Give the money to God and trust Him to get the best out of it.

  2. was a good thing to do, even if it didn't work out all the way......

  3. Such a good thing you did! When I was growing up, my mom had a similar experience, and the lady kept coming back every week or so for years (for coins, not 20$). It got to be so we dreaded her knock and it turned out to be kind of weird. I think it's hard to know how to help people...but maybe the important thing is you and my mom responded thoughtfully and directly. Most of us just look the other way.

  4. Says the woman who gave me $10 to split the cost! Thanks, Barb.

  5. Richard VanRavenswaayJuly 5, 2012 at 11:31 AM

     I've been there. I had ask for help from the church I help found. They said no. I lived in a homeless shelter for a year and a half while recovering from strokes and heartattack. I never went begging to strangers during that time. I lived with drug addicts and murderers during that year. There are many places people can go for help. The only people I ever saw begging for money on the streets were drug addicts. This is my personal experience, and may not be where this man came from. However, showing mercy is far better than judgement. You did good Pat. Hugs from a guy who once was a family man working at Hughs Aircraft, then the single parent of three children, then the huband of a physican, then stroke survivor, then homeless person. Now happlily abiding with my wife Kathy.

  6. It always is difficult.  I tend to want to help. I have bought groceries for those who were saying they were homeless and hungry.  I have kept ziploc baggies filled with quick foods, juice, napkins, plastic utensils and such in it to hand out the window to those with signs. 
    I have given clothing to people I met (often students) who did not have nice things and I had stuff  (mostly mens) at home that were like new or actually new and hubby or wson would not wear.   I have left anonymous gift baskets in the wee morning hours on doorsteps of homes of those I knew were struggling.  We all do what we can.  I make needlepoint stockings for charities to auction off to raise funds.  Sometimes handing over cash is not the best idea. 

  7. Congratulations, Richard! Man, that is a hard climb, with so many things stacked against you--I've seen some of how difficult it is. 

    But I became convinced, like you are, that most begging for money are drug addicts when I read this Willamette Week article back in 2005: made a big impression on me. Still, once in a while...

  8. My hat is off to you. I've had many of these come to my door in the last thirty years, and every so often I've given them something. Not very often. And even when I did, I was quite certain I was being had--can't think of a time I thought otherwise. It always starts with a compliment about my house or my garden, then goes straight to a baby that needs formula or diapers. "Please, not the diapers again," I want to say. "Can I buy you a beer?" I never do. I admire those who give and give in.

  9. You have a much better grasp than I do on that complicated dance between being human, living with humans, and living in an environment being eaten up by humans. Every time I give money to a humanist cause my fuzzy feelings are overwelmed by the thought that $20 would do a lot more good at Green Peace. Still, it's better to do something than nothing, which is what I often end up doing. It's tough to go through life as Charlie Brown! Miss you!

  10. Pat, blessings to you.  I believe that each of us answers to our own conscience and what the other does with the money or items is between him and his conscience or Maker. You didn't foresee a pattern. Now you may make another decision regarding this young man's welfare going forward. There are other organizations that he might be directed to, but then he must make the choice to act. 
    Here is a quote by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe:
    Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of becoming.
    You have made a difference in this man's life already. Two gifts of compassion to help him on his way of "becoming".

  11. Our son's father in law was a Lutheran minister and he told many similar tales about people who came to the church door sometimes over and over; very hard to know he said where to draw the line.......each case was different, each one caused him anguish one way or the other.