Beggar with a Point to Make

Last night, walking home in the cold, I was stopped by a man I had seen moments before under a pink blanket on the corner of 66th and Broadway, around the corner from Lincoln Center. The man ran after me, “I saw you hesitate just for a second. Can I make a point with you?”

My first reaction was anger: “What? Homeless people run after you now?”

My second reaction, a split second later, was: “A point? He has a point to make with me? He’s an intellectual?”

My third reaction, even as I shook my head “no,” was guilt.

Then I walked into the grocery store.

“It’s too hard to get money out of my purse with gloves on. Do I even have any small bills? If I give him something, it reinforces begging. If we give every street person something, it reinforces begging. What was his point? What would Jesus do? Should I buy him food?”

I bought my groceries – maple syrup for yogurt, sushi, vegetable dumplings, and orange marmalade.

He was not waiting when I left the store. I crossed the street to my apartment.

Last night he slept on the street. I slept in a king-size Ralph Lauren bed. He slept under a pink blanket. I slept under a down comforter.

Whatever the point he wished to make, the point I received is that I am one more person with a warm home who does not know what to do about people who have no homes at all. I am not guilty because I have a home. I am guilty because I walked away. I was afraid. I like things smooth, I don’t like awkwardness. I would have felt caught. I didn’t want him latching onto me. I . . .  I . . .  Why is it all about me? That right there is the problem.


4 thoughts on “Beggar with a Point to Make

  1. I usually give now without caring about what is done with the money. In the end I feel better giving than not giving.

    • Mares, I agree that if you give money, you have to give it without thinking a person needs to use it in this way or that way. And I give about half the time, but I haven’t gotten myself completely at ease with all of it. It feels as though if I really stop and listen that the difficulties will engulf me. I think that’s a reason so many of us ignore the homeless. My wonderful grandson Ben went through such contortions of shock and thought when a man came up to us and asked for a job and said he’d slept on the street the night before. Ben was 5 years old and followed the logic from, “If he doesn’t have a home, and can’t buy a home, can’t he buy wood and make a home?” to “Gramma, how many people don’t have homes?” to “How many homes don’t have people living in them?” to “Why don’t we give those homes to people who don’t have homes?” to “How do we get money to everyone?” Not bad for a five year old over 10 minutes of worry and thought. He got the whole problem and could have figured out answers that seem beyond our government and culture.

      • I love your grandson, Ben, and his thoughtfulness and logic! Yes, the children know what to do, it is the adults who are afraid, strange isn’t it? They live in the moment.
        Years ago when the Dalai Lama came to speak at the U of Michigan to accept the Raoul Wallenberg Award he told the audience that in order to have peace in the world, all we had to do is to be kind to babies. He said the children will give back what has been given to them. It’s what I think about every time I see a baby! I make a point to make eye contact with the child and engage with him/her and then tell the parents what a treasure they have!

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