We are driving a route I’m very familiar with when we see a man with a sign. You know the one. The small grubby piece of cardboard with the awkward black lettering that says something like, “Need help. Anything appreciated.” Am I the only one who wonders where they get the black marker? A bit of cardboard can be found in any dumpster, but a Sharpie? Not so readily available. The Dollar Store maybe.
I have never seen a panhandler at this particular stoplight before. It’s not even a corner, exactly, but it’s on a main thoroughfare and there’s a cross street on the other side of the road.
I study him, as I do all panhandlers. Is he a drug addict? An alcoholic? What’s wrong with him? Why is he begging for money?
I say to my daughter, “He doesn’t look too unhealthy.”
She says she does that too. Tries to determine how desperate someone is. Thinks to herself, hmm, that’s a nice backpack he’s got or those shoes look pretty new.
I think this guy looks rather jaunty. There’s something about his posture. He’s not limping or anything, not stooped over. He’s middle-aged, I’d say. I watch him move along the curb and circle a car ahead of me. Maybe it’s his first day of begging. Maybe he hasn’t been worn down by the sun and the rain and the endless rejection. Or maybe he’s raking it in. Who knows?
I certainly don’t. The “experts” will tell you not to give money to panhandlers. I always wonder if I’m enabling them. Once they’ve accumulated a few dollars, do they run (or limp) along and buy more drugs or booze?
I’m always torn. Jesus said, “Give to all who ask.” Is this what he meant? He also said, “If you do it for one of these, you are doing it for me.” Am I doing it for Him? Am I helping or hindering?
If my father was still with us he would say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” If we ever whined about how tough we thought we had it my dad would say, “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”
My daughter says giving to panhandlers may have more to do with the giver than the receiver. Maybe they are there to teach us something. Is it a lesson about generosity? About appreciating what we have? About being kind to those less fortunate than we are and not judging them until we’ve walked in their shoes? It could be that it’s more important that we’re willing to give than what the recipient chooses to do with it. How can generosity or kindness ever be wrong? Even if we are being taken advantage of, we are hardly victims.
There’s a lesson we need to learn. I just wish I knew what it was.