Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Staying Compassionate in a Thankless World

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How freaking ironic that this just happened.

An old bag lady just came in to my office and asked if she could use our restroom. We don’t have a public restroom and we’re not supposed to let people who don’t work here use them, particularly vagrants. But not many people were in yet so I let her use it, because deep down I have a kind heart. Don’t tell anyone. ;)

She was in there a long time, and when she came out she told me a man had stolen her purse and she didn’t have any money for the bus. I told her I didn’t have any, and she asked if I could ask the other people in the office. I said I’d already gotten in trouble for letting her use the restroom so I wouldn’t ask for her. She instructed me (and all of us) in no uncertain terms to go to hell, and stormed out.

She also left me with quite a mess in the restroom as a thank you. Enough said on that.

This is why people’s hearts grow stony towards those who need help.

I say this is ironic because the following is what I had written to post this morning:

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I grew up in a Big 10 college town, and while a student (at another college in town) I worked in a cheese steak shop on the Big 10 campus. Football Saturdays, as you can imagine, were a madhouse - but really any given day was. We made great cheese steaks.

There was a typical bouquet of panhandlers that I would see every day. Some I even knew by name. I gave them a little change when I could, but being a poor college student, sometimes that wasn't much. I couldn't help but feel, though, that maybe they needed my quarter more than I did.

I remember two guys in particular. One was very extroverted and quite likeable. Had he been on a different path, I'm sure he'd have made a great salesman. He used to come in the shop once in a while and ask for a sandwich, and we'd usually oblige - free of charge. At first he'd only ask occasionally, so it wasn't a problem. But he began asking more frequently, and the owner started getting sore about it. So we had to begin turning him away.

One day he came in and asked for a sandwich after the owner had instructed both him and us that the free meals were over. We had to say, you know we can't help you out anymore. To our surprise, he slammed his hand on the counter with so much force it made us jump, as well as half the customers quietly eating their lunches. He began yelling at us. We had to tell him to leave or else we'd call the cops. He raved and gestured all the way down the street.

The other guy never came in our shop, but we saw him every day. Usually he would simply be walking down the street, but sometimes we'd see him pause at trash containers. He'd look in, pull out a half-eaten sandwich or slice of pizza or whatever was there, and walk on as he ate it. After a while we'd try to catch him, and offer him a fresh sandwich and a place to eat it. He'd humbly and gratefully accept the sandwich, but would decline the offer to come inside.

He never asked for anything, either from our shop or from any one of us on the street.


SarahReznor said...

despair make you act funny, you dont see the world the same way people with hope do..

Bougie Black Boy said...

i absolutely love you!
the fact that you had sympathy for her, to begin with--AND referred to her as a "vagrant" is hilariously an oxymoron in and of itself. you're brilliant.

clew said...

:/? Is the term "vagrant" derrogatory?

Are you making fun of me, Stephen? ;)