Homeless people stand on the corner where my bank is, asking for money. While working on the middah of generosity last year in my Chaburah class, I took on the practice of giving them money. One day, I saw a man with long blond hair jauntily walking up and down the sidewalk. I thought, “This person is fairly well dressed and doesn’t really look like he needs money,” but I gave him a dollar. To my surprise, he looked me in the eye, said thank you and proceeded to bless me. I got a very good feeling.
The next day the same man was standing on the corner. My yetzer hara started up. “Oh no, it’s the same guy, I bet he’s a drug addict.” (I had been told by an acquaintance familiar with the homeless community that many drug addicts stand on this corner.) But I gave him another dollar. This time he mumbled thanks. I felt taken advantage of, and I wondered if this was the best use of my money.
The next time I went to the bank, the young man with long blond hair was standing on the corner AGAIN. He had a sign but I couldn’t read it, so I said hello and said something like “I see you standing here a lot.” He opened up and shared his story with me. He told me his name was Carl, and he was 27 and had been in a motorcycle accident and did not have the money to get therapy and that he was in pain a lot and could not work. We talked a while longer and I found out that he indeed had very few options. He admitted that part of it was his attitude and that he was depressed, but that he was working on that. I encouraged him and said I hoped things would improve for him. He seemed to appreciate my concern.
He said, “I think of standing on this corner as my job.” As I saw his situation through his eyes, my heart opened up. A few minutes of conversation made the difference between seeing him as vaguely threatening (is he a con man? a drug addict? lazy?), to seeing a person with a name, for whom I wished good things.
Since that day, I look forward to the times when I see Carl, so I can say hello and hear how he’s doing. Sometimes, when I see panhandlers, the thought of “Will this money be used for food or alcohol?” goes through my head, but I remember Carl and wonder what soul is standing before me that I am not recognizing.