My Dilemma

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I am, I think,  a godly woman.   At least as far as my own interpretation of God, The Universe, The Cosmos or Marianne Williamson is concerned. 

But today something happened that perplexed me a bit.

I had to make a deposit at my branch bank in a nearby strip center.   I looked toward the front door and there was this pathetic soul, a man with a broken tennis shoe sole (sock exposed) held together with rubber bands and black masking tape.  He was shabbily dressed entirely.   Thin, missing several teeth and wearing the obvious sign of delusion:   a fur lined parka in 80 degree weather.

I passed by him, knowing full well what would happen next.

“Ma’am, I haven’t had anything to eat and I’m starving.  Can you help out a veteran, please?”

I didn’t respond immediately.  I stopped in front of him and looked in his careworn eyes and got the vibe from his that was in fact, very hungry.

I told him that I’d see what I might be able to do for him after my banking transaction

While standing in line in the bank, I remembered how many times I’ve given needy-looking people, three to five dollars— only to end up paying for their next bottle of Malt Liquor or Ripple.  

I knew the risks involved.  But I wanted to take a chance.  As I made my deposit,  I realized that I was fortunate enough to have something to deposit and I chose to give this dignity shredded man the benefit of the doubt.    If he is hungry, it’s my duty as a good and decent human being, to feed him.

I went to the adjacent grocery store’s deli and I bought him a six inch turkey sub, a bag of Fritos and two bottles of water.

I walked outside and he wasn’t there.   I saw several police cars in the parking lot and I figured that the cops told him to move or either picked him up.    I got in my car and looked around, determined to find this hungry man on the chance he hadn’t been arrested.

I saw that he’d moved to the other side of the parking lot under a tree and he was feeding the birds with what looked liked very stale bread.  

How hungry can this man be if he’s giving bread to the pidgeons?, I thought to myself.   Well, maybe he’s just kind  and channeling the spirit Audobon and wanted to share what he had with nature.

Or maybe he’s a living, breathing test of my character and spirit.

Or just a downright liar.

I drove up to him and handed him his a bag of lunch.

He politely said, “No thank you ma’am.  I need money for shoes.    He slowly lifted up the ravaged sneaker he was trying to keep securely on his foot.

“But when I walked into the bank,  you told me that you were very hungry!”

“Yes ma’am but I need a new pair of shoes!”.

“Then you don’t want this sandwich, chips and two bottles of water?”

“No, I need money for shoes.”

“You don’t even want the water?”

“No, but thank you anyway”.

I drove off feeling angry at myself for having been taken in—again—by a homeless person, no matter how courteous.  

I’d just spent seven bucks on a fairly decent lunch for this man and he didn’t want it.    He was hungry alright, but not for food– he wanted money..  The guise didn’t matter.

I debated briefly on going back and asking him his shoe size.    There was a shoe outlet a few blocks away, but I decided against it.   It would be an additional waste of my time and money.

You see, I believe in angels unawares.   He could’ve been one, or as I said just there to test my decency as a human.   But I studied my feelings.   I felt half put out and half angry at myself for having attempted to help once again.  There is frustration involved with good intentions.

As I was about to exit the parking lot, a woman in a late model Honda tore out of the parking lot and barely hit me by a scant few inches.

Literally.

I went through the intersection–I had the right of way–and she just parked in her coveted parking spot without a wave of apology, or a passing “I’m sorry” from her window.

A few expletives rumbled from my mouth and I drove away.

Well, a few hours went by.  I arrived home and a friend of mine called, so I explained my afternoon to him. He listened and then summarized all the events and said he felt that I earned “God points” today.

God points?   He explained that’s what God does when you do good things in his name.  You get passes; you get spared from experiecing bad or negative things.

I repeated that I wanted to give food to this man because he told me he was hungry.   He looked the part and even though I’d been taken in by so many homeless people before, I wanted to believe that he was hungry and bought him a sandwich because that’s what good people do.    The Golden Rule applied far more than God did.

Some might argue that that’s what the Golden Rule is all about.

I asked him to explain “God points” to me and he said by merely intending  to help a man who believed was hungry was still a good thing to do.   Because had I NOT tried to help, the near collision I had in the parking lot, could’ve resulted far differently.

I believe in the basic prinicples of Karma, but Vedic tenets confound me.   I’d like to believe that we get a karmic kick back on occaision, but my intentions to help this poor “hungry” guy  were real and to be honest, done in private.   I looked around to make sure no one was looking.   I didn’t do it to reap acknowledgement and/or kudos from others.   He asked for help, and I tried to deliver.

I then asked him to explain the old adage, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

He didn’t have an answer.

There are plenty of wealthy Houstonians who donate gobs o’money to charities and dole out new furniture  and generous amounts of new clothing to Hurricane Ike victims……as long as it’s accompanied by a press release and a camera crew.    Yea, yeah—PR is what it is, but generosity should come from the heart and soul; not for publicity. 

God points, huh?   Sorry, but finding favor with the Almighty was not my motivation.

I’m not sure what I’m asking here, but I’d love your opinion of all that transpired in the course of my day.   Please bring it—whatever it might be:   spiritual, Christian, Wiccan, Jewish, Chesterton, agnostic..Anton LaVey’s view of the world.  

Just please don’t call me an idiot for at least wanting to help this man and then making every effort to deliver. 

I knew the risk, but not every person down on their luck wants crack rock or a bottle of Mad Dog.  Every once in a while, you act out of faith and not by logic or some homeless odds of deceit from an actuarial table in your head.   Yes, I’ve been burned by  those claiming to be hungry, when they really were just  jonesin’ for whatever beverage or substance that brought them to their knees in the first place.

I will not give money if it only contributes to furthering their derilection.

But then again, is giving food to these people another way of contributing to their downfall?   

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7 comments

  1. Laurie,

    I’m reminded of the joke about the man caught in the flood. The weather report said evacuate, but he said “I believe in God. God will take care of me.” Then the flood came. He crawled onto his roof. A boat came to evacuate him and he said “I believe in God. God will take care of me.” The flood got worse. A helicopter now came to airlift him away and he said “I believe in God. God will take care of me.” The man then drowned in the flood. When he appeared before God he said “Lord, I believed you would take care of me. Why didn’t you?” To which God replied “Give me a break, I sent you a weather report, a boat and a helicopter, what more did you want?”

    As regards the pavement of the road to Hell, it doesn’t apply here; you weren’t forcing help on a person. Just as the weather report, the boat and the helicopter, you provided the sandwich the Fritos and the water. The nature of Free Will puts the onus of accepting help on us.

  2. a similar thing happened to us while we were on our way to south padre many years ago. we stopped at a whataburger in corpus and as we were waiting for our order, an old, unkept man came in and sat down. it was hot out there and he looked like he hadn’t had a meal in ages. so we ordered an extra hb, fries and drink and virgil took it to him. he thanked him and asked that God bless his family. our ending isn’t like yours but this poor person needed food more than he needed new shoes.

    i don’t believe that saying about the road to hell is paved with good intentions. you intended to supply this guy with food because he said he was hungry- good intention #1; you wanted to go buy him a pair of shoes but had second thoughts about it- good intention #2. i think your paving your way to heaven.

  3. I stopped at a Circle K after work on payday some years ago to get a drink for the long, traffic-jam ride home. I had my paycheck with me. For some reason that day I put my paycheck in my left sock. After leaving the store and starting to drive away in a Texas downpour, I saw a man standing in the parking lot asking for help. I stopped and let him in the passenger side. He said that he was from a ship in the Port of Houston and was trying to find an address on Little York. I took him to that area but the address did not exist. He suggested that we stop in the nearby gas station to ask for further directions so I did. When I pulled-up to the building, he let another guy in the car who had a gun. They both robbed me on my $11. That’s all I had on me at the time. They asked about my paycheck which was not in my wallet. I showed them. Then they ran off in the rain. It has taken me years to get over it and help others because of them. You just never know.

  4. You were LIVING the Golden Rule when you chose to go out of your way in providing food for this poor, obviously hungry, pathetic-looking soul living on the streets. You felt compassion for another human being and acted on it anonymously and with a PURE HEART.* The fact he later refused your help, requesting money instead, nixed the deal. Like T expressed above, the nature of Free Will applies even to those who are down-and-out. Had you provided the money instead, the dynamics would have changed — making him a successful manipulator and you, an enabler (as chances were huge he would have taken the money and used it to further his demise.) Sometimes tough love is the kindest thing we can give; ALL of us need our share of discipline. Life is lived in shades of gray. You did good, Laurie! But I probably would’ve left the food anyway — and never looked back.

    * The only bona fide “gage” upon which we will eventually be evaluated.

  5. Hi LK, I hope you are doing well. You did the right thing, I have done the same thing but, the man took the food and thanked me for it. I’m sorry that he lost out on another meal for later that day. But, for every good thing we do, we will be rewarded 10 times better! Keep on giving LK, and you will reap the greater rewards, I know it will happen! Be good and have a great Easter!!!

  6. “When we come into contact with the other person, our thoughts and actions should express our mind of compassion, even if that person says and does things that are not easy to accept. We practice in this way until we see clearly that our love is not contingent upon the other person being lovable.”

    ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

  7. I’ve continued to be haunted by that gol-durned quote: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions — and have decided, like Karol, I really don’t buy that message! Whereas I don’t believe the Heavens are quite so into ‘direct payback’ as your friend suggested (your good intentions saved you from a likely car accident), his point about your BASE MOTIVATION trumping the actual outcome, was on target. Again, what’s IN ONE’S HEART at the time is what MATTERS.
    Also, ref my earlier post: sorry about the misspelling of “gauge” — sometimes I type-out these things faster than my brain kicks in!
    Lastly, I too believe in ‘angels unawares’ but even THAT potential cannot be our primary reason for doing random acts of kindness. Hopeful payback as a primary reason for doing *anything* is hardly PURE! Perhaps ‘what goes around comes around’ is a more appropriate adage — do enough good deeds and our lives are simply better FOR it. In time, we absolutely develop a more light-filled Karma.
    ~ Happy Easter weekend!

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