I'm almost finished with a book called The Kindness of Strangers, Penniless Across America, which is about a San Francisco journalist's odyssey as he hitchhikes across America without a penny. It has been giving me a chance to think about what it means to help your fellow man, especially someone who is a stranger.
The WA town I'm living in now definitely has more families living below the poverty level than my city in CA. I think about that because lately there have been several times when someone has asked me--or my husband and I--for money.
It is a slippery slope. One of the things that the book's author talks about is the distrust of people's intentions. I admit that I'm full of distrust when people ask for money. I don't know why, but it is my first instinct.
Lately, the new thing seems to be to not just come out and ask, but to have a story: the teenagers that came up to Eric and me asking for gas money because they lost their ATM card, the guys that came up to us at rest stops asking for spare change on our way to California, and the guy that came to the door today asking for $10 to buy asthma medicine for his *supposed* daughter.
There is a part of me that stands firm on not giving handouts, a part that worries about the safety issues, and then there is that other part....shame. Shame that I have fear, distrust and may be passing up the opportunity to truly help someone in need.
I will admit that when the man came to the door today, where we have a prominently affixed No Soliciting sign, it really bothered me. I guess, technically, he wasn't soliciting. He just wanted 10 bucks. Eric didn't have any. And I have purposefully taken to not carrying any cash so that I can honestly answer, "Sorry, I don't have any cash on me."
Mostly I was bothered because it felt like a line had been crossed. It is our house, our home, our refuge, our place to be where we shouldn't be made to feel like heels if we don't give someone money.
And yet, there is still that little voice that says, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
It is true. When it comes to this issue, I am in conflict.