After church yesterday, Dori and I were walking to meet out-of-town friends at a restaurant when we passed three beggars sitting on the street.
Do you have any change you could spare?” asked one shaggy man with a large shaggy dog.
Walking briskly by, I said, “No.”
Strictly speaking, that was true, since I didn’t have any coins in my pocket. But it was also an excuse, because I don’t know what to do with beggars. Sometimes I open my heart and my wallet, and sometimes I just think that I would be feeding someone’s habit.
He didn’t try again when we headed back towards our car after lunch, but a block later we encountered a pleasant-looking young black man who approached me and said,
“Do you have any money you could give me to get something to eat?”
Having just enjoyed a good (though not expensive) meal, I somehow could not refuse.
“Sure, let me go with you,” I said, leaving Dori to wait for me at the car while I accompanied him to a restaurant. (She had indicated that she was happy with this arrangement.)
“What’s your name?” I inquired.
“What do you do for work, Stu?” I asked, rather insanely.
“Nothing. I don’t have any work. I lost my job.” He sounded dejected.
“What did you use to do?”
“Construction. Sheet rock. I finish sheet rock.”
“Oh, that industry is in a slump, I know.” His story sounded plausible, so I thought maybe he was a responsible sort of fellow.
“What are you doing to find work?” I pursued.
“I go to construction sites, but no one is hiring.”
“Look, that industry is going to take at least two years to recover, so maybe you could use your spare time to gain a new skill or get some free education, so you can get another job.”
He nodded appreciatively. Well, I was glad to help a man like this.
Until we saw the three beggars I’d seen before, and the slightest flicker of recognition passed between them. So, probably these tramps all know each other and occupy different turf where they prey on innocent passersby-like me.
By then I was committed, however, so we entered a lower-priced eatery that he had chosen and I pulled out two dollars (the “change” I had in my wallet) and called the manager over to give him the money.
Glancing at the menu, however, I noticed that two bucks would only buy a cup of coffee and maybe half a piece of toast, so I pulled out a five dollar bill and handed that to the proprietor instead.
”Here,” I instructed, “ use this to pay for a meal for him.”
The man behind the counter rattled me a bit more when he seemed to know my new friend, but I pretended to ignore that and left, with another exhortation to get some education and a “God bless you, Stu.” He shook my hand and thanked me. I still liked him.
The shaggy man with his big dog saw me coming, and asked again for some change. Waving to him, I strode by without a word. I guess I just didn’t like him and his fuzzy companions very much. They all looked well fed and seedy.
“He’ll talk to that nigger but not to me,” the disappointed man uttered just loud enough for me to hear as I hurried back to Dori, who had been waiting quite a while by now.
Turning quickly, I retraced my steps to where he sat and gave him the two dollars originally intended for the black man.
“You were rude to me, but I’m not going to be rude to you,” I said softly, as I handed him the money. “God bless you, brother.”
“God bless you, too, Mister,” he responded.
So many unanswered questions surround this entire event that I can only plead, “May God have mercy on us all!”