This is somewhat of an atypical blog post for this site. Enjoy.
It’s the end of February and Portland, Oregon is still cold. Not “cold” cold, but pretty cold. Low 40s. I’d just been to the market to grab a bottle of water. I was on lunch break during one of my teaching days at PSU. I’d been talking to a class full of students for 3 hours so far and I’d ran through all the water I’d had.
Inside the market, I paid for a new bottle of water in cash, which is abnormal for me; I almost never have cash. I’d had a five dollar bill in my pocket but I couldn’t recall when I’d put it there or where it came from. The bottle of water cost less than $2, so I received $3 in ones, plus some coins, for change.
As I was walking out, I noticed the man who’d been standing outside holding a sign when I had first come in — just someone asking for money and/or help. Not uncommon at all for Portland. I don’t know the details of any of it, but as an everyday observer, it seems that we do a pretty lousy job of taking care of the city’s houseless population and others in need. But I digress.
I’ve always struggled to reconcile my desire to help people in need and my trepidation about the consequences or outcomes of my well-meaning attempts to help through sharing a few dollars. Ask 10 people what the right thing to do is when you see someone holding a sign on the street and you’ll get 10 different answers, ranging from “it’ll free your soul” to “you could be giving someone a death sentence by fueling an out of control addiction”. I’m not proud to admit this, maybe I’m even ashamed, but I’ve succumbed to analysis paralysis on this issue. I’m considering way too many possible actions and theoretical outcomes that, historically, my response has been to do nothing. That sucks.
On this day, I’m not sure what was different, but I’m glad that something was. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my change, and gave it to him. I’m not going to explore any emotion I felt or write that “in that moment, I felt I was doing some good”. However, the response that I got from him as we made eye contact and I handed him those few dollars really made me think.
Thank you for seeing me.
“Of course”, was my automatic reply. As I walked away, I thought about his words a lot. I’m sure there were a few things that man felt gratitude for each time he made a conversion (sorry, marketer) but the one thing he chose to express gratitude for was simply being seen.
It’s way too freaking easy to look down and never see anyone else. And even when we do see them, to not really see them at all.
I’ll remember that.