A misty mystical silver grey rainy twilight in belov’d Bagdad by the Bay. The sidewalks a carpet of cherry and plum blossom. Cala lilies bloom everywhere. I’d went down the hill to return a stack of overdue books and pick up some items on reserve. Forgot my umbrella. Hungry and getting wet I was going to duck into a diner for a burger etcetera but the metro sign said the next bus was in 8 minutes. I had plenty of leftovers at home... a wonderful fresh oyster soup to die for that I made last night. Save your the money. Hop the bus. Go home. Get out of the rain.As I stood waiting in the heavy mist a young black man came up. A genuinely friendly, “Howdy brother” with a fist extended not as a threat but for a friendly bump. I responded knowing what’s next.
“Please. I’m hungry. Can you help me get a burger?”“Gee guy I’m sorry all I got is my transfer.”
“Sure...... no problem. Well good night and he walked off.”I was immediately ashamed of myself. Why did I do that? What’s the matter with me? I have plenty of food at home just waiting and, while I live on a tight budget, I had plenty of money in my pocket and could easily spare a lousy ten bucks. This was no filthy aggressive dumpster-diver in stinking rags. After decades of city life I know a hustler or a sociopath when I see one. This was a sober, clean-shaven, decently dressed, young man with a pleading smile, a kind and gentle manner, and I could see he was down-and-out and really hungry. Just decent poor chewed up and spit out by the mad machine. And I said “No.” Shame on me.
What the fuck is the matter with me? Ten bucks is chump change. I can sit and bitch and moan over a decent brandy and pontificate about how the 1% is screwing all the rest but there I have it right there in the palm of my hand, right there, in my face – the chance to make a real (however small) positive difference in one small life .... to fill just one empty belly on one rainy night. Small sacrifice to me. And I said "No." Come out of yourself!I can’t change the greedy world but I could have served this one with little sacrifice. Oh, yes, do preach about humanity and compassion! And I said ‘No.” I couldn’t believe my own petty parsimony. Just because I can’t give to every panhandler is no reason I can’t exercise discretion and responsibly err on the side of human decency now and then. But here’s the problem: I know this! I have done it time and time again and feel no special sacrifice or enjoy no particular pride. So why did I say “No,” this night where the need was so clear, the deed so easy, the time so perfect, and the young man so very hungry?
The shame was breathtaking– really. I saw him in a distance and shouted out as he cavorted between umbrellas. He did not hear. I ran after him for over a block in the rain but could not catch up. Getting soaked and seeing the bus come I jumped on board and came home.After dinner perhaps an evening walk in the gentle spring rain. Who knows...
In the meanwhile here’s hoping he had the good fortune to stumble on a better man than me.