According to Horton, the elephant, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
Three times, I found those small people to be bigger than me.
I was on my way to Walmart with a whopping twenty-six dollars when I noticed a man holding a sign. I didn’t get to read it, but I’m sure he was asking for money. Several cars were driving by, eyes averted. None of them were stopping. Making the split decision I try to make often, I pulled over, mentally checking off my list something I would no longer be able to purchase. I offered the gentleman six of my twenty-six dollars, with an apology for being unable to give more.
First, he looked at my hand, then he looked at my face. He made a noise that sounded like a ‘huff’ to me, took the money, and muttered thanks over his shoulder as he walked away.
I was livid. All through my short shopping trip (made shorter because I was six dollars poorer), I ranted to myself about ingratitude and some stereotypes being true. Added to my agitation, was the remembrance of something I really needed but would have to do without. Fortunately, by the time I returned to my truck, I had calmed down enough to let the guy’s rudeness go. I was a better person than that.
Until I saw him.
He came out of the 7-Eleven across the street. He sat down on the curb and tore into a sandwich. Clearly, the man was hungry. And, my big issue was that his level of gratitude didn’t meet my expectations. Ashamed of myself, I drove by with my eyes averted, looking just like all the other drivers.
I hate it when I’m a hypocrite.
A few weeks later, I saw him again. He was on one corner of the parking lot and another gentleman with a sign occupied another. I had four ones on me. I parked in the middle, divided the cash and took the trek first to the man I hadn’t spoken with before. He was polite and thankful. When I got to the man I remembered, I began, like I usually do, with an apology for not having more. “I’m sorry. This is all I have at the moment.”
“Well then, you keep it, Miss. I don’t want to take your last dollar.”
I had to insist.
I couldn’t believe it. My daughter had told me she gave all her cash to a homeless Vet. I couldn’t believe it. Not my daughter’s deed –that’s nothing for her. I couldn’t believe a Vet would be homeless. I went to see him myself. (Sadly, he was just the first of many that I have been privileged to speak to.)
His name is John. He has a wife, four children, and an elderly mother (she has now passed). He is injured. He has been waiting for more than three years to receive Veterans Assistance. If he gets a job working over ten hours a week he will not be qualified to receive the assistance. Do you know of any ten-hour a week job an injured person can do that will support seven people? John didn’t know of any either. But he keeps looking.
When I met him, they lived in a van.
My son-in-law and I gave him all the money we had.
John cried. And then he apologized. He told us about his opinions of poor people and panhandlers and black people. That was when he had things. But standing on a corner, begging for his children, having people call him names, yelling at him to get a job, made him sorry for his own judgments. He couldn’t understand why three people from the same family would go out of their way to help him. One was more than he expected.
Why should a person who got injured serving our country feel that he doesn’t deserve assistance?
I talked to John several times after that. In just over a year, his family went from the van to a shelter to a hotel room and finally to a subsidized home. The local church gave to them clothes and Christmas presents, and Public Assistance did the rest. (The last I heard, he still hadn’t received his Veterans Assistance.)
If not for charity and welfare… well, nothing.
A second Vet, also named John, wobbled to a shopping center parking lot and sat on the curb. It wasn’t a busy area and he didn’t expect to get much help. He didn’t expect anything. John had to sit there and hope. He couldn’t walk to a busier place. He couldn’t really walk much at all. John is going to lose both his feet. The medication he needs cost more than thousand dollars a month. All he had was eight dollars and a lot of pain.
Because he drags around, people refuse to help him. They think he’s drunk.
A person’s a person no matter how small.
Each time, I approached these people thinking I was doing something good, but it turned out, I was on the receiving end. It’s a dose of humility, infinitely more valuable than the few bucks I paid for it.