I'm going to be completely honest here. Aside from the handful of times I've given boxed-up leftovers after a meal out to someone in the street or offered a bit of money, more often than not, I have simply looked the other way and continued on with what I was doing. I know I've tried hard to make it appear that I perhaps didn't even see the person in need, no doubt to make it easier for myself to deal with the fact that I just outright ignored that person. How very used to being 'pretend-ignored' they must be. How uncomfortable I feel afterwards, like I just put on a false costume and an awkward show that felt wrong all the way down to my toes. Nearly every time I've done so I have spent quite a while mulling it over afterwards. What should I have done? What could I have done? Was it the right thing, this ignoring of the actual human in the street but then bringing boxes anonymously to the shelter? Surely it couldn't be, or I wouldn't have felt so badly afterwards (versus when I actually did give and afterwards felt so, so incredibly happy to have shared a bit of my own relative abundance with someone who really needed it). Sometimes my excuse is the worry of 'what if I gave the person money and they just used it for cigarettes or liquor?' Why that is such a common worry and such a common reason given for not giving, I don't really know. After all, if my life was such that I often found myself begging from strangers to make ends meet, it's likely I wouldn't always spend that money on organic kale and chia seeds, you know? The article touches on that a bit- on the point that maybe, if we are moved to give in the first place, maybe we should be able to let go of worrying about how what we give is spent (in this kind of case, anyway). Maybe part of our philanthropy can and should include releasing the need to control what other people are doing and thinking. Especially when we'd be hard-pressed to put ourselves in their shoes. Who knows.
Part of the author's spiel was to say hey, if you aren't exactly sure what to do, but you know you want to do something, and you aren't sure how you feel about just giving money, then why not put together some bags and keep them in your car (or backpack, if you're out and about in the city) for these occasions?
And so, that is exactly what Claire and I did yesterday. We went shopping together and discussed what kinds of things might be most helpful and useful in such a bag. We discussed the merits of flashlights and lip balm and packaged snacks. Then we brought the booty home and spread it out on the table on the back deck and proceeded to divide items to evenly fill three bags (she even got some math in there along with the philanthropy and service). In each bag, we put:
-alcohol based hand sanitizer
(see what I just did? I specified alcohol based because I didn't want you to think I bought the stuff with antibacterial whatnot in it because, you know, I'm concerned about the overuse of such things. but that doesn't matter one bit in the context of this post, does it? not really. it's like the whole kale and chia seeds thing. you get what I'm saying, right? making these purchases actually gave Claire and I a bit to talk about because she recognized that these are not all things we'd buy for ourselves. I basically told her (when asked why I wasn't buying more of those pb crackers for her) that sometimes, you do what you can and the characteristics that make one thing better or worse than another, when you are considering them in light of such bigger issues like poverty and homelessness, well….. a lot of it is relative and somehow unimportant in comparison. Yes, the crackers have oil in them that is probably from GMO soybeans, but that just wasn't really the battle we were focused on at the moment, and I'm starting to see that sometimes we have to separate out such battles when we are forging ahead in murky waters trying to fight the good fight. Sometimes, we can't carry the whole of the world on our shoulders when we are simply wanting to do one good thing. It's the whole 'don't let perfect be the enemy of good' thing….. whew.)
-a travel size toothbrush/paste set
-a flashlight with batteries
-a pair of cotton socks
-a small package of cotton swabs
-a couple bags of cheddar crackers
-a couple packages of peanut butter crackers
-a couple granola bars
-a couple cereal bars
-a couple boxes of dried cranberries
And I believe that's it. (with the exception of little happy drawings that she insists she needs to put in each one, which I think is pretty stinking sweet)
The plan is to keep the bags in the car and have them at the ready the next time we see someone panhandling. She has already informed me that, while she wouldn't mind giving the bags to someone herself, she'd rather I do the talking. I get it. It's uncomfortable on some levels for all of us, perhaps. Or maybe it's just the fact that she is often a bit shy around people she doesn't know. Either way, I'm hoping that by doing this kind of stuff, any awkwardness in these exchanges and experiences will be nonexistent for her, and that recognizing a fellow human without feeling any call to 'pretend-ignore' them will be second nature. And hopefully it will be the same for me, as well.