Sunday, January 24, 2016

$20 In Flight

Photo Image: A Canadian 20 dollar bill, front and back.
I handed over my shopping bag to Joe and he handed over a $20 bill to me. It seemed a fair exchange. We've arranged it so that when we go shopping, Joe gets in line to pay for the groceries and I head over to check our lottery tickets at the machine just outside a small convenience store. Joe's not fond of checking tickets like that and I'm good with it, along with enjoying doing it, it feels good to be doing something that needs done and knowing that because I do it, Joe doesn't have to. He does so much for me, it's nice to be able to reciprocate.

There was noise in the food court as I came out and I saw immediately that a group of teens were taunting one of the homeless men that we see often in the area. As I went by I was able to hear him and the words he spoke were full of anger, and humiliation, and rage at himself for allowing himself to be tricked again. In other words, his voice wept.

The kids had got him to come over with promises of money and after making fun of his clothes, his smell, his cleanliness, which he took, waiting for them to give the money the promised. His anger burst when they handed him coupons for groceries at the store I'd just come from. He realized he'd been tricked and humiliated and made a fool of and he expressed that loudly.

The machine was without lineup, which was unusual, but then I noticed that a lot of people were watching as the security guards had come to escort him out of the area. The teens, the real bullies, the real offenders, sat where they sat and looked completely satisfied with the result.

The security was herding the man in my direction, which was towards the subway. This made sense. It was bitter cold outside and it would be safer and warmer for him to ride the trains. I didn't turn to watch, he was already on display, so I turned to my task. I stuck my hand in my pocket to grab my glasses and as I did so I accidentally pulled the twenty out. Canadian money isn't made of paper and it can, and did, take flight. There was a constant breeze by where I sat due to the door from the subway opening and closing constantly. The bill flew, as if by its own will towards the homeless guy who reached up and grabbed it.

He broke from the security guys who were steadfast in their determination to see him out of the building and onto the subway. It was only a few steps over to me, and he ran them, puffing. He reached over and handed me the $20 bill and said, "You dropped this." I took it, surprised by the quickness of his movement and noticing the presence of the guards as they stood and watched. I said, "Thank you, thank you so much." He smiled at me, nodded, and said, "Best take better care of your money!" I laughed and said, "I will." And he was gone.

I knew, from the moment that the twenty landed in his hands that he needed that money way more than I do. I don't want to pretend here that 20 bucks is a piddling amount in my life, we are a family whose income has been affected by my disability and money is, well, money. But even with all that, he needed it more than I did.

So, why didn't I give it to him.

I wanted to.

I really wanted to.

It would have been so easy to have been charitable. But in my heart, no deeper, in my soul, I just knew that he didn't need charity at that moment. He needed to be treated respectfully, and gratefully, by another human being. He needed to be the giver, he needed to be the helper, he needed to show everyone who he was. He needed to smash their stereotypes of who he was as a man and as a person. At least, that's how I saw it.

So I let him be kind to me.

In doing so, I let his act of kindness be an antidote to the cruelty that had filled that food court.

And it was. Those that watched, save the young people who were no longer interested in their victim, were shocked at his action. They saw a man who needed money desperately, honestly return money to someone who dropped it. Their faces showed first confusion and then, in a few cases, realization.

Advocates come from all communities.

Advocacy takes many forms.

Activism changes things.

The ultimate result: Travelling from humiliation to humanity in a single moment.


Susan said...

Dignity is worth more than money. Way more. You did the right thing. Classic "Dave". ❤️

Tragic Sandwich said...

I can't stand it when people pick on someone who isn't in a position to push back. I remember going to Disneyland with my parents. Some older boys started shoving the person in the Mickey Mouse suit. The people in those suits aren't allowed to respond to provocation at all, or they lose their jobs. Even if it's self-defense.

My mother, who normally avoided confrontation, lit into those boys. She told them exactly what she thought of them and exactly what their choice of actions said about them, and she did it with a small child in tow. When she was done, they slunk away. Mickey reached out and without a word--because that set of characters also is not allowed to speak--shook her hand.

Sometimes, selfish people need to be reminded that we all are human, no matter what our exteriors suggest. I'm glad you and the other man were able to show that to those kids. Hopefully they'll remember this lesson.

clairesmum said...

Respect, honor, dignity, forgiveness, love - these are some of the true riches of life.
Money enables commercial exchanges, for material goods that are needed for physical well being, comfort, and pleasure.
Having money and being rich are not the same, at all.
You share some of your experiences traveling in this world in your writing here, and I am grateful that you are teaching me.
Perhaps the teens and the security guards will take what they saw and heard and did that day and consider it again, and choose differently next time.

Anonymous said...

Love this. Sounds like you had a good read on the situation. And since you see the gentleman often in the area, you will have an opportunity to recognize him later.

Anonymous said...

beautiful post, Dave. Thank you.

S. M. said...

Hi Dave,

I am new to your blog and have thoroughly enjoyed reading your daily posts. This blog spoke loudly to me as the message is one we can all be guilty of forgetting. I wondered right away what I would've done in the situation had it been me. Truly, I believe I probably would have given him the money, but sadly I have to admit it would not for the right reasons. I would have given him the money because I am a shy person and would have felt to bad to accept it back. It wasn't until I read your words about what allowing him to give the money back to you did for him that I completely understood the message of this blog. This man did not need charity as much as he needed that moment to show that no matter how he looks on the outside he is a human being, and an honest human at that. I sure hope those teenagers learnt the lesson from witnessing it as I learnt from reading about it.

Looking forward to reading and learning more from your blogs,
Shyann M.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I found this blog post very touching and it really made me think. Sometimes having someone give you something maybe the thing they want to do, you don't always need to give back. Its amazing how many honest people there are out there who probably need the things we have more than them but they give back to us. I find your blog very inspiring and I hope you continue to do what you do.