A man from across the street exited his apartment wearing a fur coat and an interesting hat that reminded me of Sherlock Holmes. He crossed the street and made a bee line for me.
"Can you answer a question for me?
Now when someone asks you this just about anywhere in the world, except NYC, they are usually asking for directions. Here, I've found, it usually means an ask for money. I responded that I would do my best.
"I'm not asking for money, really. You see, I got a baby and I need baby milk. Honest, I can show you my baby. I need it bad. I got nothin. If you could come to the store and buy it, I'd appreciate it."
At this point, I usually walk away and say I can't help. Something this morning made me stop. "How much does it cost." He replied that he had $4.99 and it costs $14.99 for baby milk. I have no idea how much it really costs. I only had $16 on me and was planning on using it for lunch. I gave him $5 saying, "this can get you closer to what you need," and walked away wondering if I had been taken advantage of.
I know there are programs out there that pay for baby diapers and formula. I know they are free to sign up for and make sure that no baby will starve. Something told me that I really should help this time instead of walking away and saying no. It may have been my conversation the night before about how tough it is for some people to get ahead in this country, especially people of color.
Yesterday, on the train, there is a character that still stands out in my mind. He was a very tall and large white guy wearing basketball shorts, black socks, and a hockey jersey. He smelled like he had not washed in days. He came into my train car swearing and talking about how no one in the world would help him. He hated all the f-ing people in the world who were ignoring how much he needed help. He just wanted some money to buy some shoes at Payless. He has a hole in his leg that won't heal and no one will f-ing listen or help him. I felt terrible for him. Is the response to give someone money? Is that the moral and upright thing to do? The christian thing to do?
Here in lies the question. I know, as many of you do, that there are people that take advantage of other people every day. Some of them have drug problems, alcohol problems, or mental health issues. Others are simply acting as if they have problems because they would rather do that to get money than get a real job. When a person really needs help, should you help them if you can? What if it means getting more involved in their life to help them and you really don't want to or can't spend the time doing that? What if just giving them money means that they will buy drugs or alcohol and use your money for that?
I am not a rich person and have worked hard for the money I have. I am caught between wanting to save money and have a back-up security blanket for hard times versus just giving all I have and trusting God to provide when I really need it. I believe God wanted us to be a good steward with our money, but also help where we can. Is it wrong that Ideally I want one year of my salary in a bank account and enough money in a retirement account so I can retire when I'm older?
I'm more apt to give a hungry person food or a cold person a coat than to give them money. I've heard it said that they should be able to pick out their own food or coat instead of me doing it for them. I struggle with this too. If someone is asking for help, I want to do it as economically and intelligently as I can. I'd like to get the warmest coat for the best price to give to someone. Since it would be my money helping them, shouldn't I get to decide how to help?
As a fundraiser for a charity and having done charity fundraising for years, I can see both sides of this argument. My philosophy is that if someone really needs help, they should accept what they are given. If they don't like it, then give it to someone who does.
What is the right thing to do? How would you respond?
May you always have enough money to buy enough food to eat, warm clothes, and to pay for a safe place to live.
To give, or not to give, that is the question:
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to empty
Your wallet and pockets of all that you have,
Or to walk away from the man begging your change,
And by declining, leave them: to starve, to weep
No food, or coin, to ask another.
The question, and the thousand answers to say
That their need is real? 'Tis my consternation
Divinely to be able. To give, yet have,
To have, perchance enough; that yes, that's the rub,
To have enough for both, what needs arise,
When we both have hungered or have asked,
A pocket yet full. The solution
That makes my heart a happy one.
(I memorized the Hamlet soliloquy in College and took some major liberties in editing it to fit this blog...forgive me Shakespeare)