The lyrics to Arrested Development’s famous song, Mr. Wendal still rings true today. It is the lyrics that inspired many to no longer walk past the homeless pretending that we don’t see them. Many times when our hearts wanted to reach out we kept our pockets closed; everyone having their own reasons for doing so. Perhaps you were the person who witnessed a “homeless” person collect money on the streets then go around the corner and get into a parked car that was ten times better than the one you were driving. Or maybe you’re the one who has seen countless homeless people buy liquor or cigarettes with the money they just collected. Did you see them turn down food that was offered? An act that confirmed for the person that wanted to give that they really weren’t hungry at all. Maybe you found yourself in the shoes I was in last week.
We were in Memphis, TN for a book signing. We really couldn’t afford to make the trip, but we couldn’t afford to miss the opportunity either. For me, making it to Memphis also meant that I needed to make it to the Lorraine Hotel. I needed to see the place that they have memorialized on the death of a man who has done so much good for our community. He is one who many of us believe and know in our hearts and mind, he didn’t deserve to die; but there he was shot to death at the Lorraine Hotel. I hadn’t eaten that day because I was too busy trying to get in place for the signing, too busy trying to meet the next potential customer, so eating was the last thing on my mind. By the time my husband and I pulled in front of the Lorraine Hotel, I was ravishingly eating on a piece of bread. My husband had to go back to the car for the camera as I crossed the street.
A man approached me, his hair was black and white, his beard was the same, both dreaded and knotted, whether by choice or not is unknown. The cigarette dangled from his mouth as he held onto a clear plastic bag that revealed a few take out cartons of food.
“Ma’am, do you have anything you can spare?” he asked, desperation dripping with every word.
I didn’t have a dime on me, all I had was the piece of bread in my hand and even I knew he wouldn’t be desperate enough to have that. “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything.” I said as sympathy etched my tone.
“Ma’am, don’t say that. Don’t say that you don’t have nothing. Until you don’t have a home to go to, no water, no food, clothes on your back, you can’t say you don’t have nothing.”
Humph, I thought as his words lingered in my mind. I have to be careful with the words I choose. Even with the lesson learned, the irritation didn’t cease to surface, because with his change in words also came a change in his attitude.
“Well, you asked me a question, I wasn’t replying to what I have in life, but what I have to offer you,” I replied. By this time my husband had caught up with us and the man turned his attention to him.
“Excuse me, sir. Do you have anything you can spare?”
My husband began reaching in his pockets to find something to give to the man. Noticing this, the man began his speech of gratitude.
“Thank you, sir. I appreciate anything you can give me. I’ve been walking pass restaurants and people coming out saying they don’t have anything to give to me. Yet they coming out of these fancy places.”
My husband pulled something out of his pocket and shifted it to his other hand as he went back into his pocket, finding a dollar he handed it to the man. The man became a little irate.
“I would have preferred what you pulled out the first time,” he said with no qualms.
I looked at my husband and we both walked away, but not before me letting him know how I felt about his ungratefulness. “You don’t know our circumstances, nor do you know those of the people you just berated, we may have just given you all we could afford to but you’re too busy worrying about what else we could have given to appreciate that.”
He began to rant about how appreciative he was and how I was misunderstanding him, I could no longer offer him anymore of my time and I didn’t. I walked away upset.
These instances make us turn a blind eye to their circumstances because too many of them anger us by their actions or their belief that we have to do for them. Giving is about choice and a matter of the heart, no one should be forced to do what is not in their heart, for then what they have done is in vain. However, turning a blind eye isn’t the option either as I can remember the countless times that I have seen a person pushing a raggedy cart containing all they own in life, or that person who pulls the cover over them, as they lay across a hard, cold concrete slab. The ones who set up tents in the woods because they have no place to go, the promises they make to themselves and to their children that tomorrow will be better as they hug one another tight in hope. Drinking or taking drugs may be their only way to deal with their plight. It would be wonderful if we could offer them a better way out, but quite honestly if all we can offer is a dollar or two what are we hoping that they do with it?
One person’s actions cannot and should not affect our decisions for the homeless community as a whole because the next person we walk past could very well be the angel we shouldn’t have. Don’t do anything with the hopes of what you can receive, but do everything with the hopes of being a blessing. Contact your neighborhood homeless shelter and find out what you can contribute, if you have the money, that’s a blessing, but they could also use your time to type up a letter, sweep up a floor, or cut someone’s hair. Remember, there’s always something you can offer, even if it’s that dollar, in fact naw brother man, make it two.
Date: June 10, 2012
Author: Norlita Brown
Journal Topic: A Dollar to Spare