TO GIVE FREELY
The first time I ever remember giving money to a stranger that asked for help I was a kid and walking to the supermarket with my mom in Pasadena, California. The story he offered for a young boy to hand over allowance money is that he was an out of work actor, hungry and wanting a cup of coffee. I didn’t have much despite money hard earned from chores like mowing the lawn and raking the leaves as are common for kids growing up with a yard to play in. I didn’t give it much thought and figured that handing him a couple of bucks was the right thing to do. When my mom and I came out of the store, I was miffed when the guy walked right by me with a double scoop of ice cream from Baskin Robbins around the corner of the shopping center. I must admit, I didn’t like that. I felt taken, deceived and lied to. Does someone that is down on their luck, hungry, cold, out of work and needing a push in the right direction really go get an ice cream cone? Whether they do or don’t I didn’t much care for what happened. Despite this experience, I have not let that poison my willingness to give, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think about it a little when I give to people who ask. In the end I do give to those in need when asked for help but a little part of me passes judgment and/or wonders if I have been duped once again.
A few years back I was in a parking lot talking on the phone. I noticed a pretty young girl walking through the parking lot in a way that struck me as odd. This navigating the parking lot went on for nearly 10 minutes when I got a knock on my rolled up window. Her story was that she was from San Bernardino and that her friends stranded her in Huntington Beach. I have no idea if that is true but I have been given I need money for the bus to get home story before and the money was clearly not for the ride home. She was skinny in a way that had me thinking she was either hungry or involved in some sort of drugs. I have seen it before and there isn’t anything good about that. I gave her $20.00 to get back home and when she asked me to write down my address so she could send me the money back she was surprised to hear me ask her to pay it forward. I truly hoped that it would start a chain reaction of people lending a helping hand to each other. I would like to think that it was paid forward over and over but I really don’t know how sincere the story was or if she honored the request.
Fast forward to 2014 and I was at Mother’s Market in Laguna Hills while I was approached by a guy who needed $5 to get on a bus home. This bus story has to be one of the most prevalent stories used when asking for money. So, the guy takes the money and then continues on his way through the parking lot and out of view. I went in the store and got a juice and came out and talked to a friend in the parking lot. While chatting, a noticed the man that I handed the money to get into a pickup truck with two other guys talking about going to the liquor store. Shame on me but I was so pissed off when I heard they were going to by booze that I made it point to tell my friend that I was angry so they could hear that. The three all loaded up and headed for the liquor store pulled out of their parking style, drove towards us and stopped to ask me if I wanted any weed. Really dudes! They knew that I was upset that the guy in the middle of the trio asked for money for a bus ride and got caught talking about going to buy alcohol on my dime. And no I wanted absolutely nothing to do with their weed that would be fair to say is supported by those unsuspecting Mother’s Market customers who have a heart and want to help. This is probably the most upset I have been.
I was getting coffee on Christmas Eve and there was a young couple sitting on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign that indicated they were hungry. I gave them $20.00 and wished them a Merry Christmas. I noticed when I left Starbucks that they were piling into a car with someone else and my mind began to wander to entertain the idea that I had been taken again and then I mentally slammed on the brakes of negative thought and said to myself, ” You know what, I don’t care why they needed the help. They asked for help, I was able to pitch in and I did so with no second thoughts. I will not go down the muddied road of regret. In a couple of days prior to encountering the couple while getting a coffee, I saw a video and story done by Josh Paler Lin who wanted to see where the $100.00 given to a homeless man would go. The story was on national news and went viral on social media. It colors the story of homelessness in a way that should have all of our attention. They followed the homeless man who went into a local convenience store and walked out with a couple of bags. He then met several other homeless people on a park bench and they ate together. Even in his own despair he found it in his heart to share with people that needed help too. Following up on what was purchased at the liquor store, the videographer and author of the documentary piece was told by the store representative that all he did was buy food. When the homeless man was approached once again and told about the documentary he asked, “What did you think I would do go buy alcohol with the money?” We have to be careful with that type of mentality. Assuming that someone will take your money and feed their alcoholism and drug addictions. We run the risk of getting a cold heart and not wanting to help anyone if we stereotype all homeless to be trying to scam us for alcohol or purposes other than what they tell us. Honestly, who cares what they use the money for. I have personally decided that although I would prefer you to ask me for money and use it for things you need that are good for you, I will not be telling you what to do with the money and I will not waste an ounce of energy thinking about whether or not you lied to me. Why? It doesn’t matter. The reason I have come to this conclusion is that I want to live in a world where people help each other. Life is tough enough as it is. Together we conquer and divided we fall apart. I realized that if I truly wanted to represent the world of giving that I had to give freely. No expectations, no requirements and no thinking about where the money would be spent. The spirit of giving should be defined as giving freely with no expectations at all. That is what giving really is. It is interesting to me that despite handing money to people my entire life when they have asked for it that I feel much better about giving when I leave it up to people to choose how they spend my gift. This type of giving is so important because there are so many people out there struggling even in the wealthiest country in the world. Whether they buy a liter of cheap vodka, take the bus ride they said they needed the money for, or share with a few of their fellow homeless, I believe our world is a better place when people that need help remember that people really do care. I know I do. I also believe that to show others that you care and to have them see you give to the homeless spurs others to help as well. That is the kind of world I want to live in. Whenever someone asks for money and I have some I can spare, I will remember to give freely and will be completely happy with my decision no matter what!