Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Broke, Drunk, and Ugly

Yesterday on MSN.com they had an article on how to handle panhandlers. I once saw a woman with a sign that read, "Broke, Drunk, and Ugly."

How do we know whether or not someone really needs the money we give them? Does it matter if they take it to get high or drunk? Is our intention more important than the end result? I don't know, but I think about it from time to time as I often see a young woman I first met about a year ago.

I was on my way to class and a young woman (16-21?) asked me for change. The cynic in me took a quick look up and down and quickly saw she had on make-up, decent clothes, freshly braided hair. I couldn't help but notice how pretty she was. I thought to myself there was no way she really needed the money for anything. I figured she was a hustler, so I said, "Sorry, don't have any." and kept on going. For some reason she stuck out in my head.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago. I see the same young woman. I know instantly that it is her, even though she no longer has on the make-up, her hair is not braided but wild, and she no longer looks clean. She is skinny, haggard, obviously an addict. My heart stopped as I went back to that day she first asked me for change. I tried to justify not giving her what I had: I'm paying my way through college, or I've got bills to pay... But really, could I have spared a dollar or two? The utilitarian in me can't help but think that my life would not have drastically changed if I'd given her even all the money in my wallet. But what could it have done for her? Was she trying to get to a job interview? A shelter for protection from an abusive relative or boyfriend? Running from her pimp? Trying to make it to counseling for physical or mental diseases or addictions? Could a few dollars really change a life? You think - how is it going to help? But a few dollars is a bus ride, a cheeseburger, a bottle of water. Ten dollars gets you into a clean and safe shelter for the night.

It's one thing to say no to a panhandle, then never see them again. But to say no, and then see them deteriorate over time does affect one's psyche.

I still see her, and wonder if she remembers me. I'm sure she doesn't. Never meeting me in the skyway that day probably wouldn't have made any more difference than if I'd have given her some spare change, but I can't help but wonder.

2 Comments:

Blogger Seabrook Slimm said...

Very insightful. You raise some very valid points and possible outcomes to that situation. To see her deteriorate would affect most decent people. That's part of what's missing in today's society. We never know anyone's situation or condition and we often assume the worst. It makes you wonder what her condition would have been if you would have given a dollar or two.

12:49 PM  
Blogger BluJewel said...

That was a very heartfelt post and it's heartbreaking to see someone begging regardless of age, race, gender in that position. What's worse is that so much food is wasted daily instead of being delivered those in need.

I'm sure the image of the young lady did something to you and while you can't go back, you can always pay forward.

8:06 PM  

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