I Guess I’m Part of the Problem.

“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”

There is a couple with a small child who frequently stand outside the Albertson’s near my house with a cardboard sign requesting help. They are always very polite and appear to have legitimately come upon hard times.

In months past, the husband/father used a walker, but upon entering the store the other day, I spotted him and his family in the checkout line buying groceries, and this time, he was in a wheelchair.

homeless-2

The clerk—who very obviously had seen this family before—was lingering with them, speaking kindly to the parents and playfully interacting with the little girl, who sat on her disabled father’s lap. There was no line, and they stood there laughing with the checker for several minutes while I listened to their conversation.

The whole interaction was quite touching, because this woman could’ve simply bagged the family’s groceries and sent them on their way, but instead extended kindness toward people who clearly needed it—people others might have dismissed or even felt irritation toward.

This may not be the most popular thing to admit, but I have given this family money several times. And guess what? I will continue to do so.

Some may view me as “contributing to ~the problem~” or “not going through the ~proper~ channels” but before providing your holy critique, consider the possibility that those channels might not be working if a disabled man (of working age) can do little more to support his family than stand outside a grocery store and beg for money or food.

Call me crazy, but I’m not sure the guaranteed humiliation of engaging in such an activity would be worth any amount of money.

And guess what else? Even if they have made indiscretions with those dollars or decide to make poor life choices in the future (haven’t we all?), I don’t really care. Because I want to be the kind of person that believes in kindness, karma, and redemption—however a person chooses to earn money or on whatever they choose to spend it. And if that means being chastised for giving to someone in need, then so be it.

Every time I press bills into the hands of this struggling family, the man modestly bows to me and says over and over, “God bless you. Thank you. Thank you so much.” And recently, when the only cash I had on me was a ten dollar bill, I won’t lie—I was tempted to keep walking. (And there would’ve been nothing wrong with that. I’m definitely no saint.) But as I walked to my car with a newly rented Redbox video, my grocery sacks suddenly felt heavier than ever. I was bringing home luxuries—a bottle of wine, some interesting cheeses, a salmon filet, chocolate, et al. and for all I knew, this family had nowhere quiet to sleep.

In return for the ten, the father offered his appreciative refrain, and when he saw the bill, his eyes filled with tears. And in that moment, my begrudging turned to embarrassment, and I walked away a little teary myself. Because if I were ever to be in a situation (heaven forbid) where all it took to make me cry was a stranger putting a ten dollar bill in my hand, I would thank my lucky stars for the people who tried to make me smile in the checkout line, and for those who didn’t just walk on by.

I guess this is an admission of guilt. (I use the world “guilt” because lately, it seems that giving a homeless person a few dollars is viewed as shameful—for reasons alluded to earlier: “proper channels”, wastefulness, substance abuse, blah-blah-blah.)

But nonetheless, here it is: I can’t keep walking by anymore—no matter how many people think I’m contributing to a problem.

Part of being human means experiencing times of extreme need and distress, whether financial or otherwise. And I can say with a certainty that every time I’ve experienced loss, I was moved by the unnecessary kindness of a stranger. Yes, I have often made poor decisions that brought me unnecessary challenges. Yes, I have often learned painful, powerful lessons from my mistakes. But despite my own stupidity, there has always been someone who reached out their hand and offered exactly what I needed at the time.

When people are hurting or in need, sometimes they may reject help if it doesn’t come in the form they want. Maybe a loaf of bread isn’t what a disabled man needs—maybe he needs money to pay his medical bills. While I realize my experience with the homeless family mentioned earlier is likely an exception (I don’t deny that much panhandling occurs out of greed, can result in societal complications, and sometimes perpetuates substance abuse), I’ve begun to see people differently since interacting with this family. I’m not saying to pass money along to every person who asks, but maybe it doesn’t hurt to think about how difficult life might be without a roof overhead and food in the fridge.

Alright, I’ve said my piece. Unleash the trolls.