Thursday, May 1, 2008


I was in a park near where I live the other day, of mere coincidence, after buying a cd at nearby Borders. I was parked, in the process of unwrapping the cd, when a homeless, or at least impoverished man approached me. There was no reason to be afraid, this was a friendly park and I have had many experiences like this before. The man, Edward, goes into a story about how his feet hurt really badly, he has diabetes, some mental disorder, this and that, etc. and needs money for a bus fare to return to his home a few cities away. I wanted to mention how the last two times I have been confronted by homeless men looking for money, the reason was the same: money for a bus trip to a nearby city, after being stranded here in some unfortunate manner. It is probably one of the most foolproof justifications to successfully ask for money from a stranger.

So the man needed money, and initially I was unwilling and annoyed, and prepared to say no. But he keep talking about this and that, mentioned God, and for some reason I was persuaded to let him know I believed in no such thing. So I told him. I told him I don't believe in God, I haven't for about a year and a half. He was curious as to why, and asked if something really traumatic had happened as the cause, the same question another one of my friends asked me just the other day when I told them the same thing. "No," I said. It was just a feeling, one day I just woke up and knew that I didn't and couldn't believe in God any longer. Incidentally one of my close friends died about two months later, but I can honestly say that played no role in my relationship with religion, and told him that as well. Edward proceeded to say "That's fine that's fine, everyone's got their own opinion and everything," and told me the reason he believed in God was because of his son. He told me that his son had died when he was eight years old and afterward he had nearly abandoned God, but reconsidered for the sole reason that if he was to really believe in God he would have a chance at seeing his son again someday. I decided that was fair and let him know that surely if there was such an "Almighty God" as so many people say there is then He would be capable of solving the mess off this world and setting it all right afterward, and in the meantime I shouldn't worry too much about it. One cannot decide to believe in something, especially a God, and if one does then that belief is hollow and worthless.

Either way, towards the end of this conversation I had an urge to give this guy a $20 bill I had in my wallet. It was not out of compassion, belief in his story, or hope that he would use it for anything approvable, only out of willingness to give it to him. What we do with what we are given is up to us. If he choose to go and buy drugs or alcohol or whatever that is his choice. So I gave him the money, he was extremely grateful, and requested a ride a few miles away to his grandmother's house where he was staying. I agreed, I was headed about that way anyways, and just decided to for the hell of it. We conversed about school, where he is from, what he did when he was younger, which was rope horses apparently, this and that, and eventually arrived at a run-down, pale colored apartment building with red, rusted stairs in the front. I let him out, and my suspicions of his intention were confirmed by his departure. I was skeptical from the start just by the nature of his story, and because I've heard it so many times before, but when I dropped him off, I asked for his name again, and said "You're welcome, I hope you make it back home." He shook my hand lightly, muttered a thanks, not nearly as enthusiastically as he had earlier, left the car, walked across the street, and around to the back of the apartment building without looking back once. As soon as he safely had what he wanted, he was done, and I meant nothing. To me, this is no surprise.

The reason I gave him what he wanted was, for one, I do believe in karma, and to some extent what we do will find its way back around to us. However this was not selfishness, I did not act out of hope for some good deed to be returned to me later. Karma establishes a mutual kinship between all humans, and for this world to survive those with power must be willing to give up their power. The eternal struggle between the classes of society, between the rich and poor, between the nobility and the oppressed, is embodied and defeated in the act of honoring another man's humanity and allowing him the trust one would allow anyone else. I never bought the authenticity of Edward's plea. The only tool the impoverished have is authenticity, honestly, or at least apparent honestly, to get what they want. Who am I to blame or condemn them to what we all do, but in different forms?

So he took the money and the ride, forgot me, and is off to do whatever the hell he wants. However, had I denied him the money I would not have prevented any self-destructive habit he had, only prolonged him from reaching it. If he wants to damage himself then so be it. The choices we make are ours and ours alone. I let him choose. That power was mine, and hopefully giving him the power to choose was better than actually giving him twenty dollars.

But I wonder if it was not all in vain. Futile. He doesn't care, I didn't lose much, he didn't gain much. What does it all matter? Should I have confronted him and asked him the truth? Would he have told me? Probably not. And honestly, I don't know, but truthfully I just felt obligated at the time to give someone else what they were asking for, simply out of my capacity to do so.