October 22nd 2019
All this stuff cost me $25 bucks:
This modest haul -plus $5 of vitamin C cough drops- is enough to make TWELVE packages worth of stuff to hand out to homeless people.
Each bag in this batch will have:
- vitamin C drops
- toothbrush w/ carrying case
- hand sanitizer
- love note
- fresh pair of socks
- one dollar bill
Every day I wake up, maybe sore, tired, reluctant, bedraggled… hopefully thankful for a New Day. But I’m in an electrified, temperature-regulated home; in a giant bed with cotton sheets, a down comforter, enough pillows for a small army; I’ve got family members to love and a smattering of animals for good measure. I shower or bathe whenever I want with as much fresh, temperature-regulated running potable water as I could possibly need, and change into clean undergarments and different outfits from my ample -if eccentric- wardrobe 2-3 times a day depending on my work schedule. My kitchen is full of food, even when “there’s nothing to eat.” And even then if we’re pressed for time or energy sometimes I just push some buttons on the computer -one of several in our home, with internet and cable television for god’s sake- and move some funds around and have a fresh cooked hot meal arrive at the door whenever we feel like it. We even have a machine to wash the damn dishes.
OH; the funds? Well, we’re healthy, skilled and housing-secure enough to be gainfully employed; with access to education, communication, transportation, the beginnings of very modest savings “for the future” and even MEDICAL CARE.
Imagine any ONE of those systems going awry and my world would be thrown into chaos. But even then it would be temporary chaos from which we could most likely recover. Hell, remember when the water heater went out ONCE in the past seven YEARS? Out of coffee? Internet down? Cat missing? Car break down? Someone come down with a cold? Or a broken bone?
Imagine waking up after a night on the cold pavement in a doorway by the library -or even in a “shelter” crowded with other disenfranchised strangers- trying be warm enough or comfortable enough to even sleep. That is assuming no one tries to assault you or rob you in the night. This night anyway.
I could go on speculating. And I do. I speculate all the time. But I will spare you here.
All I can say is the panhandlers I see are humble, polite, appreciative and often filled with enthusiastic personalities and more intelligence than I would expect. It’s really not a big deal –AT ALL– to slow down for ONE SECOND and share a fucking crumb. A piece of free candy from the counter at the bank. A piece of change from your pocket. Some leftover food. A bottle of water. God forbid we ask if they are hungry and buy them a sandwich or something. Or just say, “Sorry I don’t have anything but I hope you have a good day.”
Who doesn’t benefit from a little basic human interaction, even in the best of circumstances?
But you know what IS a big deal? Doing nothing. Looking the other way, pretending they don’t exist, or thinking for a single moment that couldn’t be you -god forbid- in a parallel existence where you were dealt some different cards through no fault of your own.
In FACT, it is my understanding (according to our medical clown training) that the very PHYSIOLOGY of empathy is such that the very way to alleviate the psychic pain of seeing the suffering of others, is simply this: ACT. Taking action is actually the very remedy to relieving the distress of acknowledging others’ suffering.
So I would modify Mr. Rogers’ statement:
Don’t “look” for helpers. Just BE one.
Looking the other way or pretending they don’t exist or fooling yourself that you are somehow a superior human being will NOT help you. Is it really THEM you are afraid to look in the eye? Or is it YOU?
But take heart. And take action. Just ACT. Any ol’ imperfect action will do.
And what if they are a drunk or a drug user and are just going to use the money for another hit, etc.? That is not my concern. That is on THEM. BLESS them. I can neither save the world nor everyone in it. But to be someone willing to neglect my fellow brother or sister? Or to pretend that I haven’t also made poor decisions in life, or that some great disaster could not someday befall me? That is on ME. And I value myself too much to suffer unnecessarily in the face of others’ suffering. Therefore any action will do.
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
Look. If your life is on fire (which happens to everyone; did you know that?) and you are too strapped or distressed to think about others, then forget it. Read no further and save yourself! Do whatever you gotta do to survive; please! I am not here to shame anyone and moreover, please know I am Wishing You a Blessed Day. And if you are struggling in areas of finance, mobility, health, safety, or your arms are filled with babies or other loved one(s) with high needs; then take courage and waste no time worrying you’re not doing enough. You’re a Superhero and You Got This!
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
Right now I am just lucky I -and my kids- have recently found this particular technique for trying to help. It was originally my son’s idea. (Specifically, to carry cans of black beans on offer, which can be eaten right out of the can and provide such great nutrition. For 89 cents at that.) Plus making gifts is FUN. And it’s just so damn easy. I keep the packages in a bag in my car. I only have 49,000 other bags of crap in my car; what’s one more?
And because I know that taking action relieves the physiological distress of empathy, at the end of the day this is not a form of heroism or altruism, but simple SELF-CARE. It is simply a good and healthy thing to do. FOR ME.
$42/month x 12 = $504/year. An investment and a privilege.
I also have the added satisfaction of knowing for certain it makes some difference in other peoples’ lives. Folks always *seem* to appreciate it. One guy even asked for a second package for his girlfriend. And the other day, this sweet, older, very skinny, very weathered, unkempt but upbeat, friendly and seemingly quite intelligent man thanked me very much. Then a moment later he turned around and jogged to his bag, picked something up and brought it to my car window while I was still at the stoplight. He said, “You’re not allergic are ya?” and handed me these FLOWERS.
“No,” I said, “THANK YOU!”
Then he said, “Watch out, they attract bees!”
“How WONDERFUL!” I said, and we exchanged smiles.
Then the stoplight turned green.