Money for nothing.

begginghand

Dear friends,

Monday, Mr. Mom drove me to a doctor’s appointment because 1) it’s 90 miles away and 2) I dearly value time in the car with my favorite guy and he’s very good about indulging me on car trips. As we were leaving the big city, we encountered what is sometimes called a “panhandler” while stopped at a busy intersection. I instinctively reached for my wallet but quickly remembered it was empty.

“Do you have any cash?” I asked Mr. Mom.

“For what?” he said.

“The man. Holding the sign,” I said as I pointed in the gentleman’s direction. “I want to give him some money and I don’t have any.”

The light turned green as Mr. Mom explained his wallet was buried in his back pocket.  We left the intersection without helping a haggard looking man whose cardboard sign said he was hungry.

We were silent for a bit then Mr. Mom asked “How often do you do that? Give money to strangers.”

“Every time I can,” I answered. “If I see someone asking and I have cash on me, I give it. Last week when I visited Kate in Tulsa, we encountered a fellow at an intersection and I gave him all I had, which was $10.”

I could tell Mr. Mom was surprised but had no further comment.

Earlier in the day, while waiting at the doctor’s office, I overheard two women talking. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop and it took me a few moments to piece together that between the two of them (presumably an adult daughter and her older mother), they were having trouble coming up with $8 for the daughter’s co-pay. The mother had a debit card with $6 on it and the daughter was rummaging through her purse for change. That’s when I discovered my wallet my was empty. I was about to offer my own debit card when the nurse called my name. I walked into the examination room feeling guilty for not insisting the nurse give me a moment to help.

I haven’t always been this way. I used to be notoriously cash poor. I carry a credit card and a debit card and use them almost exclusively, even for minor purchases like coffee. When I worked in the big city I was frequently approached by individuals seeking money and almost always turned them away with a truthful statement: “I’m sorry. I don’t have any cash on me.”

But in recent years I’ve started carrying cash for the express purpose of giving it away. I consider it just one form of the variety of charitable contributions I am committed to. (In case you’re wondering, higher education, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are all high on my priority list.) But in regard to my cash donations, I’m not very methodical about it, honestly. I have no scheme for “who” merits “what.” I’ve given as little as $1 and as much as $40 depending on how much cash I have on me and how in need the person making the request appears.

I find it curious that I’ve been occasionally criticized by friends and acquaintances for this practice.  The critics seem convinced that panhandlers are “too lazy” to work, or use the money for alcohol or drugs. And don’t get the critics started on the “fake veterans” whose “ploy” they find particularly objectionable.  I have no idea how anyone seems so sure of their conclusion that the needy aren’t really in need. They are strangers, after all. So what do we know about them except the fact that they are asking for money? I want to say to the critics “On what basis are you making this assumption?” but I usually keep quiet.

A few times I have said this: “Have you ever thought about what circumstances would lead an individual to ask a complete stranger for money and think that is the preferred option over all others? I have. And I’ve concluded things must be pretty desperate — or other viable options exhausted — to compel someone to beg.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “bootstraps” theory of life. Especially American life. There seems to be a strain of the American psyche that values self-determination, rugged independence and individual industriousness above all else. I admire self-made men and women. I do. But I also think not every soul on this earth can pull themselves up by the bootstraps — for a variety of reasons that I’m in no position to judge. It doesn’t make them less than. And it doesn’t make them pitiable. It does make them worthy of my help.

There’s been a renewed emphasis in the last couple of years, especially on social media, on the notion of “paying it forward.” Again, I find it curious that folks want to buy breakfast for the person in line behind them at McDonald’s but don’t want to help the person asking for it face-to-face. I’m not trying to judge. I’m trying to understand. Both are money for nothing, in my book, but somehow the unseen person seems so much worthier.

For what’s it worth, this reflection on the “bootstraps” theory isn’t meant to be a political statement. But I will admit I’m politically exhausted and dispirited right now. I’ve allowed myself to wallow a bit about the Bannon-ization of the White House, which is just plain wrong. Say what you will about anybody in the White House right now, it’s up to ALL of us to build a better world. So I’m trying to focus less on what elected officials are doing wrong in my mind, and more on what I can do right.

And I’m putting my money where my mouth is, or in this case, in the requestor’s hand.

With gratitude {for days mercifully long gone when a co-pay put me in a bind},

Joan, who for too many years criticized her mother for giving her last dime to anyone who needed it and now understands Colleen was doing the Lord’s work in her own way

PS: I’ve written around this topic before so forgive me if you think I’m a harpy. But this post sums up my feelings on the topic of entitlements versus opportunity and is, in my humble opinion, worth your time if you’re so inclined. And this is my favorite post on the topic of begging.

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Comments

  1. mommamissouri says:

    Good thoughts!! Thanks for the reminder!!

  2. “They are strangers, after all. So what do we know about them except the fact that they are asking for money?” Amen to that, Joan-Marie. Thank you for a great post.

  3. Tamara Crisp says:

    ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Thanks for the reminder, Joan. ❤

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