I am well aware of the detriments of having a soft heart, and being willing to practice kindness on a level where your immediate response is to give/help. There have been plenty of naysayers in my life, who make enough noise about it, for me to not know.
I suppose this is where my stubbornness (and rebelliousness, ha ha!) comes in…
I still choose, and want, to have a soft heart, and give to others, and be kind.
I still choose to sometimes sacrifice self and ‘nice things’ in order to that.
I am not looking for a pat on the back here, and I do not expect anyone to ‘follow in my footsteps’ in any way.
We are all different, and the world needs each and every one of us and whatever contribution we make to it. We are not all the same, and this is not always a bad thing.
I am, however, setting the stage for ‘something’ that is close to my heart, and it’s something that I wish more people would at least consider… because there was a time that I didn’t.
Growing up, everything for me was conditional. Including love and acceptance. But that is a story for a book, and not a blog post.
I am going to focus on one particular thing though, and I’ll explain at the end of this blog post my ‘why’ for today.
The something? The one thing?
Well…. I was always taught that you never give money to beggars/street people.
”They will just waste it on alcohol or drugs. You are causing them to sin.”
(Nope… we are not even going to discuss religion here… suffice to say I am fed up with religiosity in general. Another book topic, ha ha!)
And I carried that with me my whole life… that attitude… that refusal to give any of my hard earned money to the beggars and people on the street so that they could purchase drugs and alcohol.
Until about six or seven years ago… I can’t recall the timing of it exactly, but I remember what happened.
An acquaintance of mine was on holiday, in a very cold place, and posted a picture on Facebook of her sipping a very full glass of sherry, captioning it, ”This seems to be the only way I can get warm tonight!”
We were also experiencing a bit of a cold spell then, and I smiled as my mind went to all the people I knew who were probably doing the same.
It was only the following evening that I had an epiphany and ‘my world changed’.
It was really cold, and had started raining, and I realised that I had forgotten to buy bread. I grumbled and moaned at myself as I drove up the road to the 24 hour convenience shop, to pay extra for a loaf of bread – my complaints were chastisement at the small amount of extra I’d be spending, ”how could you forget bread?”; and having to be out, again, in the cold and rain. I left the shop, climbing into my car and still grumbling because now I was wet as well…
And then I saw him. And something inside me broke.
The old African gentleman who was one of our homeless people, snuggling as close as he could get to the wall in order to try and take advantage of the small roof overhang to shield him from the rain.
I was suddenly so ashamed of myself! It definitely stopped me in my tracks.
I watched him pull a bottle of a well known brand of cheap alcohol around here from inside his coat, and take a long sip. And nowhere in me could I find that response, ”Typical. Probably starving, but bought alcohol instead.”
It was more like my mind screamed at me : ”If you lived on the street? If you had to stay exposed to this cold and rain all night? What would YOU do, Meg? Would you not have also opted for something to ‘dull’ the experience and hopefully somehow keep you warm, if possible?”
I left the warmth of my car to give him the last of my cash that night – we were in for a cold spell with more rain for the next few days.
And I went home and tearfully told the story to my children, and since then all three of us have different attitudes regarding this particular thing.
(I am well aware that we all make choices, and suffer the consequences thereof. But something I am very sensitive to as well is that sometimes there may seem to be NO other choice : the drug addicted street lady who sells her body, for drugs and not food? What if she ended up there because someone repeatedly robbed her of her innocence from a young age for years, until she ran away? What if the drugs help her forget that nightmare, because no one else has even tried? What if… what if… what if…
Do I know their whole story? Who am I to judge?
Sorry! *covering my eyes with my hands* These are things I am incredibly aware of, sensitive to, and passionate about!)
I can’t explain fully, because it needs another book… but the situation around here is dire, to say the least.
My town no longer has a ‘government’ children’s home – the privately funded non-profits are full to capacity, and some overflowing. We also don’t have a homeless shelter. (Our current unemployment rate is more than 50%.)
On any given day, in the short distance of just 2km (about 1.2 miles) I drive past at least NINE ‘street dwellers’ begging for food or money. And those are just the ones I notice when my eyes are not fixed on the road. I travel roughly 90km per day…. I see a LOT of people in need.
Yes… my soft heart wants to help every. single. one.
But I know my reality, and I know it is not possible for me.
But I have got ‘my people’ – specific individuals that I help – who live in my area. One older lady, I only encounter once a week.. so when I don’t see her one week, I get concerned and am always relieved to see her the following week. There’s a kid of about 13 that I see a couple of times a week. etc. etc. etc.
I mentioned earlier I would explain my ‘why’ for this post…. so here it is :
There is a guy who begs at the traffic light up the road from my house – I drive through there possibly six times most days. He’s a little bit wild looking, ha ha! His dreadlocks are mid neck level, and stick out all over the place most of the time. He has a lot of personality, and sometimes even does a cartoon-like jig for people waiting at the red light, to entertain them. Most ignore him, but every now and then I see someone hand him a coin or two for his effort. He has the biggest smile on his face most of the time too!
He’s been hanging out there, every day, for the last 2 years.
And I’ll admit it, initially I was a little afraid of him, because he really does look crazy. Nowadays, my kids and I affectionately refer to him as ‘our crazy friend’. And even though he sees me six times in a day, he knows he only gets something from me once in a day.
He always says thank you… even if it’s a ‘drive by drop off out the window’…. he shouts it to me while I am driving away in traffic.
He interests me, I wanted to know his story… and so I asked ‘my friends’ who work at the petrol station right there about him, about a year ago.
All they could tell me was that he is actually a ‘clever man’… he finished high school and so he has some education. But his house burned down. And he lost his family. And had ‘bad friends’ and started using drugs. It made me sad.
A couple of times, I have actually stopped and sat and chatted with him. Unfortunately, his way of living means that he doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense anymore. And we battle a huge language barrier – my Xhosa (the African language spoken in this area) is extremely limited! So our chats were always very animated – lots of pointing and gesturing, ha ha!
This morning I popped onto Facebook for a quick scroll. And I burst into tears.
I drove past my crazy friend at 5:15pm last night. He waved at me, and gave me the biggest smile.
At about 6:30pm last night, some horrible person doing a STUPID speed, drove into my crazy friend. And drove away!!!!!!! Yes, it was a hit and run. And they still don’t know who that person is.
The report is that my crazy friend is in very bad shape, and his chances of survival are slim – he was unconscious with severe head injuries at the scene.
I know that if doesn’t survive, in a way it’s merciful, because his life on the street was extremely hard… especially here.
But I am still sad. And angry with that careless individual who could just drive away!
And I know I am making myself vulnerable to all the thoughts of ”how ridiculously silly that this could affect her”, ”good grief, she’s way too soft”.
Perhaps it does make me weak... perhaps I deserve judgement for it…
It doesn’t matter to me, either way.
And I am not complaining about the sadness things like this bring to my life because yes… this IS the way I want to be, and what I choose. My consequences for my choices, I guess. Ha!
The take-away from all this? The thing I am ‘really trying to say’?
Perhaps the key to trying to ‘change the world by changing ourselves’ is to reflect on our giving?
Are we giving, sharing, and being kind to only those who ‘deserve it and have earned it’, or are we willing to step forward and break out of the ‘box of conditional’ and give, share and be kind to those who ‘don’t seem to deserve it’?
Can we change things if we stop expecting something in return, and stop demanding that people meet certain requirements in order to be loved?
(I don’t know what the right or wrong answer is in any of this!
I just know I need to keep being me.)
Hoping that whatever the outcome for my crazy friend, that somehow he knew that he mattered to someone… he mattered to me!