I generally don’t give to panhandlers, preferring to give donations to charitable organizations. My response to requests for money has been, ever since my college days, to look the person in the eye, say “sorry,” and move on. I’ve found that there’s usually a polite response of something like, “OK, you have a nice day.” And that’s that.
But now I have a two year old.
Today when we left Walgreens, a man was asking for money outside. I see him there often; it’s one of his regular spots, along with the grocery store, and it shares a lot of traffic with the fast food joint next door. Today he asked if I could spare a “li’l bit.” That got Little Man’s attention, because sometimes his daddy calls him that. And then Little Man realized that the man was missing most of his teeth. He stared in fascination.
The man continued: “I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday, and I’m so hungry. Would you buy me a hamburger?”
I did my customary “sorry” and loaded the car. Little Man and I got in. Little Man was oddly quiet. Then I heard a little voice say, “Mama. That man. Hungry?”
So I got back out of the car and handed the man some cash. And felt humbled by the simple wisdom of a two year old.
As we left, I saw the man going from car to car asking the same question. Was he hungry, or is he a professional panhandler? I can’t know, although I suspect the latter. But that’s not the point. My kid showed concern for a hungry man. Surely I can respond to that, and leave the the details to God.
I just hope that I have the wisdom to keep up with Little Man and the strength to help him develop his growing sense of empathy. I want him to grow to be a good person, whatever that means in his future. On days like today, my sense of responsibility is staggering.
And yet I wouldn’t trade this gig for anything. Because sometimes it takes a two year old to remind me of what’s important.