We were driving south, coming home from work, when I saw a man sitting on the street. He had a cap out in front of him for passersby to throw change into. He stared vacantly into the distance while his right hand slowly stroked the fur of one of the two dogs that curled up next to him. The dogs, one brown, one grey, were small dogs. The fur one each of them looked like a good wash and a good brush would be in order.
The intersection was very, very, slow so it took us three lights to get up to the front of the line. Joe and I had dug for change so I was ready. As soon as we were close enough, I rolled my window down and called out: Sir! Sir! I have some change.
He turned, startled, and saw me with my arm out the window, with my hand clearly holding some money. He got up and came towards me, the dogs, both on leashes followed. I placed the money in his hand and wished him a good day. He put his hand on my arm, looked me in the eye and said, "Bless you, I thank you for the money, and I thank you for seeing me and speaking to me."
I wished he hadn't said that.
Really wished he hadn't said that.
Because, as we drove away, I was forced to be honest with myself. I had seen the dogs. I had seen that they needed more care. I had wanted to contribute hoping that some of it would go to the dogs. I saw him, but I saw him secondarily to the dogs. I saw that he needed care, that he needed food, and shelter and a good wash. But. I gave him money because of the dogs.
I dont' like admitting this publicly. I feel I need to defend myself by saying that I regularly give to people on the street who ask for change. They don't all have dogs. I want to be a good person, I want to ask in generous ways.
But the only way to be a good person, I think, is to take the challenge to grow when it is offered. His words made me realize that my motive in helping wasn't as much 'human being to human being' as it should have been. That I had prioritized the care of the dogs of the care that he needed. That, though he thought I had seen him. I hadn't. Until he spoke, I really hadn't seen him.
I thought I new better.
Maybe I don't.