I live in a small community. One I’ve adopted as my home town. I mean after all, If you compare Green Bay, Wisconsin with Portsmouth, Virginia they are pretty close in population size. About one hundred thousand people, both cities are roughly fifty square miles and both have very charming neighborhoods and built on the water. Although I do miss the Packers and Lambeau field, cheese curds and the smell of brats cooking almost every night, but, Green Bay does not have my family there.
No, my family is here.
But family is not just the person you’re married to, or the offspring of your coupling. No, family seems to be the people you end up surrounded by on a daily basis. Bosses, co-workers, and basically anyone who is always around whether you want them there or not. (Just like family to be around when you don’t want them)
Co-workers become step-brothers and sisters, bosses become some sort of bastardized parent figure or creepy uncle or drunken sot of an aunt. The people who run the coffee house or convenience store suddenly are your estranged cousins. The waiter who takes your order ever week has morphed into that one family member who’s trying to get their life back together after a messy divorce and the homeless people you pass everyday who beg for money are your deadbeat, just got out of jail relatives.
Yeah, I guess you could say that living in a small town you become not just associated with everyone but related to them in some fashion. So where am I going with this? Truly, I’ve gone off the rails. Sort of…
Almost every day I see the same people. Some of them are sailors in the USN, or USCG, some are clerks at local stores, some are city workers going about their daily municipal chores, some are lawyers doing their lawyerly thing, others are administrators and then there are the homeless folks. Yup, we have homeless here in the heart of the south.
Some of them are completely bat-shit crazy, others have substance issues and still others seem to be vagrant by choice. I don’t know. I don’t really spend my time getting to know them. I have however; on occasion, been known to give them some money. Which we all do from time to time, and we usually feel better about ourselves for doing so.
Then, the other day, something I saw made me step back from myself and make a decision not to help at least one of the local miscreants. You see, I was standing in line at the store, picking up a beverage and a snack for later in the day when I realize the person in front of me was one of the homeless population who has been known to panhandle all over the downtown district.
He smelled awful, which made me take a step back and causing me to bump into the person behind me. I almost dropped my items. I apologized to the person I ran into and stepped a half step to my left. That’s when I saw the homeless man, a man I’d given money to on at least a dozen occasions had a cart in front of him and it was pretty full. All sorts of items, food, bathroom supplies, detergents, dvds and even a book or two.
I was confused. But not as confused as when after the cashier rang up his purchases and informed the gentleman of the bill for his items. Almost fifty bucks. Then this guy pulled out a wad of bills, unfurled three twenties and handed it to the cashier, got his change back and put the change in one pocket, sorted his money and placed it in another pocket.
I’d like to say he spent most of his money on his supplies, but I can’t. This panhandler was actually carrying more cash than I was, more cash than I had in my bank account, more cash than I’ve seen in quite some time. He gathered up his bags, and left without even looking at me.
I put my three items on the counter, the clerk rang me up and I handed over my money. The clerk asked if I was okay and I asked if he’d seen the smelly man before. The clerk then informed me the “Smelly Man” came in at least once a week, bought a bunch of stuff, paid cash and left. The guy was a regular at the store.
I asked the clerk if he’d ever seen the smelly man panhandling, he said no.
Fast-forward to the end of the day, I’m on my way to my second job, walking down a side street and not even thinking about the “Smelly Man” when I see him standing near the entrance to a parking lot. He was panhandling. A few folks handed him some money. I walked right by him, ignoring his pleas for money and food.
I wanted to yell at him. Call him a phony. Tell everyone on the street what I’d seen earlier in the day. The urge to do so was overpowering. But I didn’t say a word. I just made my way to work. He is not my responsibility, he is not my concern. I don’t have to do anything for him for the rest of my life. I can ignore his existence for the rest of my life.
He will become the long lost uncle I’ve never met, the aunt who moved to Alaska, the cousin who became an ex-patriot, the grandparent who passed away when I was a baby and my life will neither be worse or better for this decision.
Yet this whole experience makes me wonder “Have I ever been the cause for someone to make a similar decision in their life? Am I the cause for bitter anger and resentment from one human towards me?”
I’d like to think no, but in reality, I have to say… Maybe.
Have a great week.