(I was going to say --- in fact, in my first draft of these musings, I actually did so state --- I couldn’t honestly pin this to any sudden flash of epiphany… just a gradual nagging realization, augmented by a couple of verses from some book somewhere. But on reflection, that’s not correct. Because it really was a sudden realization, the last time I encountered this situation. I’m not sure about ‘epiphany,’ exactly; I don’t know about you, but my conscience tends to operate more along the lines of Jiminy Cricket, sitting on my shoulder and, without warning, poking me painfully with his tiny umbrella before saying rudely, “What are you doing, dummy? You know better than this.” And he did reinforce his admonition by supplying those verses to back up his assertion. Boy, it’s annoying when he does that. Well, maybe not.)
Now, in this oft bleakly cold, uncaring world, in such a situation, it’s all too easy simply to turn away, to avoid eye contact, to pretend the tailgate of the car ahead is suddenly worthy of your complete and undivided attention as the raggedly dressed homeless person shuffles along, sometimes holding a cardboard sign crudely lettered with yet another tale of anonymous woe. It’s also too easy to rationalize it away by thinking, ah, crap, my wallet is in my back pocket, I’ll have to undo my seatbelt and dig around to reach my wallet, then fumble my way through it --- and that’s if I’ve got a damned five in there in the first place --- and maybe the light will change and the guy breathing down my rear-view mirror will regard my charitable action as not worth a few seconds of his precious time, and will impatiently and very audibly urge me to get the hell going, and, besides, there are shelters --- which I support through donations, by the way --- and am I just going to be feeding the homeless person’s (likely) addictions, and…
And… and… and…
You know, you’ve got to regard humanity’s stunning collective ability to rationalize uncomfortable situations as an incredible talent --- one of our strongest, although, unfortunately, not one of our more shining ones. Sigh. Why do we do this? Is it because the sight of mundane misfortune --- and by that, I mean a situation that’s not emergent, like a car crash or fiery explosion or other immediate crisis, just quiet, run-of-the-mill, private misfortune --- somehow repels us? Maybe it’s a case of there-but-for-the-Grace-of-God-go-I, and that realization somehow makes us feel ashamed of the other’s poverty, because it reminds us all too forcefully that many of us are only a paycheque away from homelessness ourselves, or many of us struggle with our own addictions or mental issues? Or is it charity fatigue? Are we so wearied by the constant parade of human misery displayed across the planet that, like the American public in the face of Trump’s constant, unprecedented, jaw-dropping, narcissistic defiance of conventional norms and decency, we no longer respond as we should to outrages perpetrated around us?
Well, with many of us, I rather suspect the answer is: to a certain extent, a greater or lesser mix of all the above. Which is bad enough, but not the worst possible scenario, which is, we plainly and simply don’t care… or think the person with the sign somehow deserves their misfortune. I hope our Grinchy little hearts really aren’t two sizes too small. Because that really would be the worst-case scenario, with no redemption or hope for the future at all.
Anyway, getting back to my personal tale. I thought to myself, you know what? Consciously, deliberately, put a damn bill in the centre console. And next time you see this situation unfolding, it’s there. It’ll take mere seconds to get it out. So, no excuses. Roll down the window, make eye contact, and say something. It doesn’t have to be anything terribly profound. Just treat the person outside the car as a person, not as a robot or a thing. And make sure it doesn’t sound patronizing.
Here’s the funny thing about these musings, at least from a writer’s standpoint --- and every writer should be able to see themselves in it: I didn’t intend at all to write what you’re reading. In fact, I was going to talk about a piece of live theatre I saw the other day… and my opening thoughts were relevant to that, as was one of the verses I mentioned earlier. (But they led to other thoughts. Which is not a bad thing at all --- in fact, it’s one of the best things about writing.)
Hey, speaking of verses, by the way, you nudge tentatively… those couple of verses? Wanna clue us in on what they were?
Oh, yeah. Thanks for asking. Here they are:
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares
Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me… whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me
You can probably guess where those verses come from, so I don’t really need to spell it out for you, do I? And really, I don’t give a damn what your religious beliefs may or may not be, or whether you accept or dismiss the topic. In this particular instance, religion doesn’t really have to enter into it at all.
Just a small act of common humanity.