Wednesday, November 30, 2011

First Encounters of a Begging Kind

Note:  This post was written awhile ago, I just didn't get around to publishing it until today.

Today is my first full day of my resolve to give each and every beggar who asks a one dollar bill. I prepared my pockets by packing each with a pretty dollar bill. Upon leaving my parking garage, I proceeded to walk gingerly down the 3 city-sized blocks between my garage and my work, eyes peeled for someone with the look of a beggar. To my disappointment, I encountered none.

“What the luck!” I thought. After all, it’s seemed that these people were EVERYWHERE last I looked.  Wasn’t someone always asking me for money, like, ALL the time? But then I wondered, perhaps the beggars aren’t as prevalent as I perceived them to be? Perhaps I feared being begged so much, and felt so guilty about each person I passed, that, in my mind, I blew the problem out of proportion? Only time will tell, I guess.

At lunchtime my colleagues and I took a walk through the brand new city parks. As per my usual habit, I scanned the area, looking for potential beggars. At that moment, I thought of how different this situation had become -- I had always scanned each area for beggars, but I did it so that I could avoid them; so that I could make a convincing show of the fact that I simply overlooked them and did not notice them sitting there. This scan was different. I really wanted to see a beggar, I really wanted to enact upon my new resolution. Unfortunately, I saw no candidates.

Then, as we were walking through the park, I thought I heard a man ask for some change, and that man was headed in my direction. The first thing I noticed about him were his clothes -- they looked clean, and new. He was slightly heavy (i.e., not starving), and had sharp shoes on. It all happened so quickly it seemed. Usually I have time to prepare myself, to put my act on. But not this time, not for this man. Because he didn’t look like he needed money and did not have the look of a beggar, I was completely unprepared to encounter what would be the very first recipient under my new resolve.

I saw him ask the people in front of me, and before I could even react, he had asked me. I was taken aback, for sure. My immediate thought was “this man doesn’t need my money! Look at him! The nerve!” But, while that thought was going through my head, my hand went into my pocket and handed him the dollar bill before I could even finish thinking it.

I don’t know what I expected after I handed him the money. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Would I find joy in the act? Would I begrudge the beggar his dollar, even though I’d given it? Would I analyze the likelihood of that person really, truly, needing that dollar and putting it to good use?

Surprisingly, even though my reaction while handing it over had been to scrutinize his need for the money, those thoughts passed right on by after the dollar had been given. Instead, I started to explain myself to my coworkers. Well, I was going to explain myself. I opened my mouth, I prepared to speak, because surely they were going to ask why I would do such a thing ... wouldn’t they? After all, we had been on countless walks downtown together, and never before have any of us ever given money to a beggar. Surely they were going to ask. But I closed my mouth, willing to wait until they asked. But. the funny thing is, they didn’t. They just continued on as if nothing had happened at all. All of a sudden defenses that were rising in my mind dropped as I realized I didn’t have to explain myself. What a relief. And the funny thing is, I hadn’t a clue that would be immediate reaction. It had nothing to do with the beggar at all, or the money that had left my possession for good. It was truly an unanticipated reaction. I wonder what that says about me? I’ll have to analyze that one later.

As for the man I gave the dollar to? I haven’t given him any more thought outside of writing this article.  I am very proud of myself. I expected my first encounter to be easy, rewarding and predictable. Instead I was caught off guard, asked rather suddenly by a person who I never ever would have given a dime to before. And even while I was thinking of reasons NOT to give it, before I could even finish those thoughts, I had given it. And it was easy and effortless. The first test thrown at me had been a hard one, and I passed with flying colors.