Walking and Talking With A Stranger
My 15-year-old daughter, Jacy, and I attended an Atlanta Dream game in downtown Atlanta, and while walking back to the car, we passed a woman sitting on the steps of The Tabernacle, a mid-size music venue. She called to me, and I kept walking. People beg for money often in certain parts of town, and I usually don’t feel threatened or bothered. I frequently interact but don’t always. I’ve met homeless people near my house, and I almost always talk with them. Elsewhere, if I have the time, I will sometimes stop and speak—or not. I might give some money, and I might not. I don’t claim that I do what is best, or that I always know what is best. I try to be, basically, nice, and treat everyone with dignity, but I am aware of the self-destructive ways many people use money. We have taught Jacy about not judging people by their appearance and about the effects of poverty. In this case, I didn’t stop—until:
Jacy stopped in front of her and called me to join her. The woman had a small pile of belongings behind her. Like many people asking for a handout, she also had a story. She was homeless and pregnant (she pulled up her shirt a bit to prove it). She had a terrible childhood, a crackhead mother. She needed $10 to spend the night at a shelter. She said she was 35 and asked if she looked that age. I said no, she looked younger, and she smiled broadly, thanked me, and shook my hand. She had a pretty smile and was engagingly friendly. I glanced at Jacy a few times and saw she was listening intently.
When the woman said she was adopted, Jacy smiled and said, “I’m adopted.” The woman and my daughter hugged excitedly. The woman said they now have a special relationship. She ended her story and asked if we could help her. I looked at Jacy and asked, “What do you think?” Jacy nodded, and I gave the woman $20. She thanked us and said she had a song for us. She sang a song about how everyone needs Jesus in their life. I looked at Jacy again, and she was beaming.
As we walked away, Jacy enumerated the reasons she thought we did the right thing by giving her the money: She was pregnant. “I saw it.” She needed a place to sleep. “Look, Dad, she’s walking, so she’s not just sitting there asking the next person for money. She’s finding a place to sleep.” She was nice. She sang to us.
Once when I was walking Jacy home from the 3rd grade, a woman that I knew would spend any money I gave her on crack cocaine asked for money, and I told her no. As we walked away, Jacy told me I was selfish. (When Jacy has an opinion, she can be a pistol.) I explained my reason for not giving her anything, and Jacy just looked at me.
I’m omitting a lot in this tale: causes of homelessness and poverty, personal issues of homeless individuals, critiques of governmental approaches to homelessness, and others, and that’s OK for now. This is just a little story about a little walk we had.
There are reasons to not give money to panhandlers. Some reasons are mean-spirited, and some are reasonable. A very few times, I have given money, to individuals and organizations, that I later regretted. I had good reason to be skeptical of some of this woman’s story. Was that bulge really a pregnancy? I don’t think homeless shelters charge for a bed, but I do know they fill up fast and some other place may charge. That “Do I look 35?” could have been an oft-used ploy. But I no longer get hung up on whether to “believe” a panhandler’s story. I figure that even if someone is truly in need and will use the money wisely, it’s probably a good idea to have a story that works, whether it’s all true or not.
Jacy will eventually learn from experience some of the nuances, risks, and tough choices related to charity. She will have to learn how to answer people who ask for favors, make a judgment, then decide. For now, I’ll take that act of sweet kindness as well worth the $20.
Oh, I know that dilemma – to give or not to give – well! And I always worry about what message I am sending my watchful children. I appreciate Jacy’s kindness, that night and always. A trait to nurture and appreciate for sure.
Love this. Especially about treating people with dignity and respect whether we give them anything or not.
Very nice. That Jacy sounds to be a wise young lady.