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Different world


Taking public transportation has the distinct advantage of exposing me to areas of the American culture I'm not completely in tune with. The train ride to the airport, although similar to the train ride out with the mix of people frome bums to young people, scrawny to beyond obese, gorgeous to butt-ugly, was interestingly more pleasant than the ride out from the airport.

Instead of catching the red train from the convention center, I caught the blue, and took it to where the two line separated. Near the exchange point, a black man came by and asked for my change. His request was different from most change requests I normally get: his eyes were missing the usual "deranged" (in quotes, because that's not quite the right word) look, his manner wasn't desperate, and he was softspoken. When I gently shook my head no, he nodded thanks and moved on.

I watched him for a moment, and did something I rarely ever do: I dug the change out of my backpack and handed it to him as he walked back to the back of the car. He nodded thanks again.

The change wasn't much: maybe fifty cents. Money I would most likely never miss. At least I sincerely hope I would never miss.

The change started me thinking: I had one hundred dollars in my backpack from a trip to the ATM yesterday. It was my lunch and spending money for the week. Would I miss twenty of it? Handing it to a beggar wouldn't be the best use of it, but losing twenty dollars isn't any better.

I dug the twenty out of the back of my pack, folded it into eighths, and handed it to the man as he was eying a woman's three bags of recycling.

He didn't realize it was a twenty, but saw that it was paper, and thanked me. A minute later, recyclables in hand, he came up to me to thank me again.

Would he spend that money on drugs? Would he buy alcohol or cigarettes? Would he buy something I generally disapproval of, or something he needed.

I decided I didn't care.

If he needed that cigarette to get him through the day, then that's what he needed to spend his money on. Because it was his money now to spend.


What a beautiful way of summing up a situation. How often we worry about how our donations will be used, as an excuse for saying no. It's something I've struggled with for as long as I've been old enough to have money that somebody else would want from me.

Just saying no seems so heartless, so cruel. Not, 'no, I'm afraid you'll spend it on drugs or booze', but just 'No', as in, 'I don't want to have to be around you any longer than humanly possible'. 'No' as in, 'how dare you ask me for something?' 'No' as in 'I can't quite acknowledge our shared humanity by giving you a buck'.

I have the additional burden of recognizing that contrary to what my culture teaches me (beggars are lazy, dangerous, crazy, bad, whatever), my faith tells me that these are not how I'm to make my decision about whether to give or not. Giving is expected of me, regardless of the situation (Matthew 5:42 - 'Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.')

The key isn't what the other person does with the money, though given the right context, that should be a concern of mine as well. The key is how I approach the giving. How tightly do I hold on to that money? How judgmental am I of someone else who needs something from me? How little do I want to look at and acknowledge that this is a child of God every bit as much as I am? That split second decision about whether to share some change or a buck speaks volumes about who I am. Of necessity, it can only speak volumes about me, rather than the requestor, because I rarely know anything about them.

Of course, I hope that the money will be used for something good, rather than drugs or booze or whatever. Of course, if the opportunity is right, I'm more than willing to go and buy somebody some food instead of just handing them a buck or two. But ultimately, what they do with the money - or don't do with it - is their issue, not mine.

Good on you for trusting your instincts.