I remember when I was much younger, my mom left our very abusive stepdad and fled two states with us just to get out of his reach. Everything had been in his name, including all the money and the vehicle she took—he could have had her up on charges for stealing if he’d thought of it. As it was, we started from zero. Mom worked two jobs, maxed every credit card, and did all she could to keep us afloat, and every penny she made went only to bills. She received no child support because he found a loophole in the law—despite his subsequent remarriage to a millionaire (I can’t make this shit up) money was doled out to us at his whim and only if she groveled.
This went on for years.
And one year, when school time rolled around, he was having none of it. He shafted us. Mom was left with a teen in the middle of a growth spurt and a quickly growing toddler who was shooting up fast enough he might as well have been and no money for clothes that fit either of us. We lived in a place with snow, so it wasn’t just shirts and shoes we needed, but layers and coats and things to fortify us against the coming cold. So she turned to her church, a church that had long since known our plight and, in all her years there she had never once asked for help. They took up a collection and with a good fifty to sixty well-off people in residence they raised….eighty dollars.
That’s just over a buck and change per person, if everyone gave, which it’s likely not everyone did. That’s less than filled the tithing basket every Sunday.
Even with some seriously skilled thrift shopping we wound up with maybe three outfits for me and less for my brother. We were lucky to find coats at all. And we had to make do. And I learned that year just how much I was worth to those around me, how much my hard working mom and her toddler son—who had done no wrong to anyone—were worth.
About a buck and change. Or less.
And I’ve never forgotten.
I’m betting no one in the church ever thinks on that incident. I’m betting it was forgotten before a month had passed, if not the very next week. They had lives to live, things to do, places to be. They walked out of there patting themselves on the back for a job well done, that their spare nickels and pennies did some good, and of course mom thanked them prettily because, when you have to beg, you have to act happy for anything you get.
I’m not going to say you have to give your whole paycheck to the first beggar you see on the streets (though carrying some five-to-ten dollar grocery store cards you can give to them can be an awesome way to go), but as the graphic says, if a gesture is such a small thing to you that you can make it, make it. Give an umbrella to someone in the rain if you have the money to quickly pick another one up. Buy a cup of coffee for someone who left their wallet at home. Allow the old lady who’s having trouble walking to cut in line ahead of you because, chances are, she’s also having trouble standing. Hold your damned judgments if you see someone paying for food with an EBT card and you think their clothes look too nice or their phone is too posh—you don’t know where or when they got those things, or how many years old they are; they could have been given to them by friends or relatives or bought them before they lost their job.
And when it’s your turn to help—not a notable charity or social safety net program—but just one family, one being sponsored by a church or local charity or place that you can trust, when you find yourself moved to open up your wallet, before you give, ask yourself.
If you’re giving a dollar, or five, or ten, ask yourself why? Ask yourself if you could give more but are choosing not to? Ask yourself if you’re judging these people simply because they lack what you have? Ask yourself if you really want to do this, or are just doing so because you feel obligated? And ask yourself if they actually deserve to have spare change cast at their feet as if they were swine, or if you’re letting your disgruntlement and preconceived notions get in the way of seeing them as people?
And ask yourself, if you were in their shoes, how would you want to be treated?
That five or ten or twenty or fifty or old dresser or rattletrap car or out-of-date computer means so little to you, and so amazingly much to another person. And that everyday occurrence you’ll never think on again might not be as unimportant to the person on the other side.
And as we watch austerity measures put in place, as we watch safety net programs cut, people swindled by banks, young people jailed for laughable offenses while rich criminals go free, as we watch the number of those in poverty continue to rise, as we watch the population of homeless grow despite the fact we have more empty houses than homeless people that could use them, ask yourself.
Ask yourself what kind of world you want to live in? This one, where it’s every man for himself, where the haves step on the necks of the have-nots and then tell them it’s their fault, where we treat humans like garbage because their bank book isn’t up to snuff, as if their financial statement was the only important thing about them?
Or maybe a world where people come first, where if you fall down for whatever reason—be it personal stupidity or circumstances beyond your control—you know there will be compassionate hands and kind smiles to catch you? Where you know you’ll get a chance to try again?
All we have is each other. Be kind.