Money part 1

I was on my way into a Rite Aid when I saw the woman begging on the sidewalk near the door. Honestly I wouldn’t have stopped except there was a backlog to get into the Rite Aid and while I waited the begging woman started talking to me.

Could I get her something to eat? Yeah I can do that. What do you want to eat? She asked if I spoke Spanish and I said yes and she said pollo. I said, okay, ahora vengo, and I went to go get some. She said I’ll come with you and I shrugged. Okay. So together we walked to the grocery store nearby.

What do I know of begging and giving. In the city people ask for money often and I usually do not give. Why do I not give? Either I am too lazy–my wallet is at the bottom of my bag I’m pushing a bike in one hand and the crowd is pushing me onward already. Or, I am embarrassed. Will the person sitting next to me judge me for giving? Will this coffee shop where I’m sitting be annoyed that I am giving to solicitors here, encouraging them? Will they think that I am gullible?

It was a good time for me to walk to the grocery store with this woman who was draped in fabrics, who was much shorter than me, whose hair was either cut extremely short or falling out, who said she had three children at home and was struggling to make rent. It was a good time for me to walk to the store because I didn’t have a job and I didn’t do anything that day except I was gonna go to Rite Aid to get more soap and toilet paper. So I had time to walk to the grocery store with this woman. I had time to try to make conversation with her even though I didn’t know where to even start but I asked about her kids and she guardedly answered. And then she asked me for more money and I said no.

What do I know of begging and giving. Statistics show that the more money a person has the less she is likely to give it away. I know that I have been stingy–from conventional blueberries to I’m-staying-in-tonight to avoiding eye contact on the street and for what?

I felt uncomfortable when we entered the supermarket together. What would the people here think of us? Of me? She took a basket and I followed her around the market. She picked out some chicken and pork. She looked at me questioningly and I eyed the prices and nodded yes. Then she went for a $15 piece of meat and I said no I can’t. Okay, she said. What about flour? No, this is enough. A smaller bag of flour? Okay. Vegetable oil? Okay. Cake mix? No, this was already way more than I thought I was getting in for.

I don’t know about this but I do know. That this small thing that I am doing is an act of care for this woman, but also it is a chance for me to adjust my beliefs. Maybe I don’t need to hold on to this money so tightly. Maybe money is not time. And to give it away is not to unbraid a rope, long toiled over in its making. Maybe money can be magic. Maybe I can somehow use this finite resource to make something infinite.

At the checkout I went through first with a bottle of olive oil that I had grabbed for myself and the woman put her basket on the counter behind me. The cashier assumed that we were not together and so I told her I’ll be paying for everything and she was a bit surprised but gracious.

I helped the woman take her groceries out to the street but when we got to the curb I handed them off to her. She asked me for some money to help pay her rent and I said no. She asked for a blanket. I said no. She thanked me and lovingly blessed me and she excused herself to cross the street where she would catch the bus. On the walk home I checked on my wallet. Yes it was still there. I kept my eye out for her at the Rite Aid, but I haven’t seen her since.

11 Comments

    1. This is a beautiful post. Yes, the more you have the less you are likely to give, which is quite puzzling, even if true.
      In my experience I find that the best thing you can give is, besides something concrete like money, food, or clothing is respect. This might be hard to understand for many people now but begging is a job. It’s an awful job, but it is what they have at this time and like any job it requires a very hard to maintain sense of dignity, however hard and absurd that is to maintain. I always spend some time if I can and I usually introduce myself and shake their hand. I don’t want their job, but I force myself to respect it nonetheless. If have nothing then respect is worth more than anything else. This is their work.

      I was raised Catholic, and I have a hard time with the contradictions and the way it has managed to make itself into a little quasi-empire but I always find myself coming back to the simple fact that Jesus was very nice to beggars and said that if you helped one of them you were helping him, just like if you visited someone in prison you were also visiting him. So, I try to treat people who are in trouble like I hope I would treat him if he were a stranger. I fail to, but I’m reminded how Saint Martin, a proud Roman legionnaire, cut his own cloak in half to share it with a naked beggar and then it ended up being Jesus. He didn’t want the whole coat, just enough to stay warm, but mostly I think he wanted to be treated with consideration by a proud soldier who could have ignored him. The work of saving the world took being naked and alone, humbled and in need so a person like Martin could rise up to the task at hand. The work of the person who asks for help is necessary for the the person who gives help.

      And, like Saint Martin, you did the right thing, but more importantly you recognize, as I am sure Martin did, that it is embarrassing to help someone, especially in the light of day. Martin did his act of charity on a dark, cold road, alone and in isolation. To be helpful is often to be humbled, but that’s how saints are made. They respect others and humble themselves. It can be damned difficult, but those who are afraid of embarrassment to the detriment of their conscience are people who perhaps don’t have what it takes to be fully and completely at home in the world.

      Thanks for another great post.

  1. i’m studying new york city on wordpress and i’m from cincinnati … there is an amazing system of assistance in cincinnati for people that need food and shelter … is there a good homeless system in new york city?

      1. okay that’s cool … hey this is the new me … i just spent 2 years in cincinnati’s homeless system and gained lazer like focus on my writing career … my last apartment had a gas leak and i was left homeless and then i didn’t make it out of the system for 2 years … now i’m like RRRRRRRRRRWRITE … so i’m all outgoing and writing different people and … i studied nyc’s homeless system and i only found one inlet … i really like i’m the proverbial university graduate … i’m poor but active with a project … i’m starting cincinnati’s next magazine … i have an apartment this saturday i am moving into … okay this is enough gush … i still get excited every time i experience a point of contact and this is my 8th blog … every moment i have to connect with someone i try to

      2. That’s amazing! What’s the magazine? I’d love to check it out. Keep writing! I definitely need to learn more about the homeless system and stories are some of the best ways.

      3. The magazine has a home at Nick’s Poems and I’m working on building traffic now at my wordpress site. It’s just poems. Sort of a literary magazine. I plan on visiting open mics and covering local poetry but right now I am working on my own verses.

        I learned about homelessness and found that the system has people’s best interests at heart it’s a city working to get people housing so they don’t have to live on the street in cincinnati. I also learned that there are people that are devout to spending their money on weed and beer and cigarrettes so their finances get ruined just because they party so often. There are also some people that were like me that were forced into homelessness because of some accident. I plan on keeping writing.

  2. Very nice article. I too, often ignore the requests for money or food. From time to time (maybe twice a year) when someone is asking for a bite to eat, I’ll go with them to a nearby restaurant and buy them a sandwich, some soup and a cookie for lunch, then I’ll get them another sandwich for a second meal later in the day and sometimes I’ll even get them a small gift card so they can get yet another meal. It makes me feel better that they at least have the opportunity to eat something (I don’t watch them eat it, so they could toss it or trade it, but they have the opportunity for something nutritious). I say about half the time I get disapproving looks from fellow restaurant patrons or employees because I’m paying for this persons lunch. I don’t get that same look when I buy a co-worker lunch. It is so infuriating for me. I say if you feel like helping and you can, do it. You could be making an amazing difference in a persons day.

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