NOVEMBER 17, 2008 11:49PM

Straws in the Wind

Rate: 5 Flag

When I was growing up, there were "panhandlers."  They were men, almost always men, and they approached men, almost always men, and asked for money for a cup of coffee, or a bus ride, or whatever they thought would work best.  I clearly remember my shock in the early 60s the first time I saw someone sitting on the sidewalk with a cup next to them; outside the original Nordstrom's in Seattle, as luck would have it.  I was appalled, and said "That's what they do in India, beg on the sidewalk.  Not what we do here."  (Well, I was young and rather remarkably opinionated without much depth to back it up.)  It was, of course, a straw in the wind, and now there are beggars everywhere and we hardly notice.

Today, for the first time in my life, a man rang my doorbell and asked if he could do any work in the yard in exchange for a meal.  I was as shocked as I was that long ago day outside Nordstrom's.  I live in a quaint little town, with "street people" but no obvious rub-your-nose-in-it poverty.  But this was a man who said he hadn't eaten in a couple of days, and he was hungry and could he rake leaves for something to eat?

He had a regular job in the summer, had for two years, and last winter he'd worked for a tree guy cleaning up downed trees and limbs, but the tree guy's son had come back from Iraq so there was no work for him there.  He'd gone every day to the day labor office, but lots of men and not many jobs.  He knew the Lighthouse Mission offered free food, but he felt better doing something for his food.  So he was going house to house, but people were scared -- "well, understandable, these times...." -- or they said they'd like to help but didn't have enough for themselves. 

 So I did what I'd always promised myself I'd do if someone came to the door and asked me for food:  I gave him a meal, and then asked him to rake some leaves and do some other work in the yard.  He worked very hard for an hour and a half; I had a $20, and told him he'd earned it, and I was glad to be able to share food with him.  He said thanks, and walked off.

 I read economists, and commentators of all stripes:  Wall Street, Main Street, yadda yadda yadda, bailout, liquidity, not really so bad just needs a quick fix, yadda yadda yadda.  And I wonder if I've just seen a straw in the wind.



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Thank you for not judging. For respecting. For providing work. For providing a meal. And respect for a fellow human being. Can't we all follow your lead?
I work with the homeless. I other met so many people just down and out. They tell me they just want work=respect.
I understand. You gave this man the latter. I hope it is a straw in the wind. A gale.
As I blogged a couple days ago.. We have some pretty decent folks, (like you) up here in Washington. Thanks for your kindness. It took a lot of nerve for that guy to knock on your door. I wonder what kind of crap he had to go through before he knocked on your door.
Ric, I agree. I think it would be incredibly hard for a grown man to go door to door looking for work. I'm glad we could help him, but your posts have reminded me to be a little more aware of what's going on around me, to maybe offer help that would be welcome but that's not asked for.
People see those folks with their signs that say, "will work for food.." and assume they are bums, but I am here to tell you. 9 times out of 10 they are desperate and have zero options. It takes a ton of nerve to be able to do that. Can you imagine the abuse they have to put up with? Over in Tacoma people like that get arrested and for what? Make them criminals because they are hungry?

Some people will say, "they should get a job.." Well, that is easier said than done. I think everybody should pretend to be homeless of hungry for just a day, then we would see if opinions would change.
There is so much dignity in this post... both yours and the man who was asking for work to do in exchange for a meal.

We don't hear that word a lot in public discourse; perhaps because it's been MIA for so long.
"Dignity." Not a lot of that around, or rather -- not a virtue that is very often valued these days. You're right about that, ktm.