Outside Lowe’s yesterday, there stood a man with a sign asking for money. I parked the car and signaled for him to come on over. I asked him how he was doing, which is a really stupid thing to ask a man holding a sign asking for money. I reached into my wallet, where all I had was one $20 bill. Damn. What could I do? I couldn’t hand him a piles of nickels and a lint ball! So I gave him the $20 and told him to treat himself (again, stupid). Well, I was trying to do a good deed — but not that good of a deed.
As I was berating myself for handing over my last bill, I thought: “You’re an idiot. That man needs that cash more than you need a dozen bagels! Or several bags of marked-down Cadbury Eggs. Or Depends.”
As I re-tell these tales, I always hear the same response: “Don’t give ‘those people’ money; they’ll just buy booze or drugs!” And my response is always the same: “I don’t care.”
And neither should you.
I believe very strongly that we’re all just one missed mortgage payment, one lay-off, one illness away from losing everything. We can have it all today and see it disappear in a cloud of calamity tomorrow. No one is immune. You may think you’ve worked a lifetime to protect yourself from such circumstances, but good fortune is never guaranteed.
This man may have had the perfect upbringing. He perhaps won every spelling bee in grade school, played a sport at which he excelled in high school or even secured a degree in college. No one knows his story. Perhaps he battles his demons from the inside out. Mental illness enjoys no exclusions. It sometimes rears its head in adulthood, causing fragile walls to come crashing down. The by-product, sadly, is sometimes losing it all and being grateful for a handful of change just to get through another day.
If soothing the agony that is mental illness looks like a pint of Captain Morgan, then I say have at it. If someone who’s broken would rather down a brown beverage in a bag instead of a ham sandwich, why should we care? We should not.
Try to understand why a man is holding a sign with a small backpack containing his whole world, in a rainstorm outside of Lowe’s. Imagine the possibility that while his outer layer may appear shabby and unkempt, his heart and his soul are as lovely as yours.
This man is someone’s son, maybe a father or husband, an architect or a teacher. Things may have unfolded differently if he had a solid support system to cushion his fall and nurture him when he unraveled. We wouldn’t be witness to his appeal for money, nor would we judge him, because he and his demons would be well-hidden.
Imagine what he feels; outside, exposing his neediness and desperation for everyone to critique. Imagine being in his well-worn shoes with broken soles and his jacket with no buttons. Ask yourself if this was your brother or father or son, how would you like him to be seen by the universe?
We all bear difficulties in our lives. Sometimes it’s sickness we can see and understand and treat appropriately. But often, it’s a monster that resides indoors, hiding from the world.
So, did I do a good deed?
Maybe a partial good deed. I wish I did a good deed and a half. I wish I did more.
Next time, I will.
Maria Jiunta Heck of West Pittston is a mother of three and a business owner who lives to dissect the minutiae of life. Send Maria an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.