I was sitting in a long line of cars waiting to turn at a busy Gwinnett intersection. I could see the man standing at the intersection holding a cardboard sign. I could not read the words, but I imagined what was on it. I had been at this intersection many times before when someone stood there with a sign asking for monetary help–out of a job, out of transportation, out of food, out of shelter. So often when I face other human beings in that situation I go into my head and reason why I should not give money. I don’t know what they are going to do with it, and I might be contributing to a problem more than a solution. I give to organizations through my church and United Way that help alleviate these kinds of sufferings. What if this is a scam?
Things have been shifting in me lately, and I just decided to get out of my head and go with the flow of things. The flow, for me, was that this guy was standing out on a corner begging for help. I would not ever know what or how he used my gift, and maybe it just wasn’t mine to ask. True gifts come without strings. The light was still red. I opened my wallet. I had a one, a five and a ten dollar bill. I took out the ten, folded it so that it would be easy to hand off, and I breathed a blessing on it–whatever this man needed, let him find it. The light turned and the flow of traffic began. The car in front of me slowed down and a hand came out to the man. Then, it was my turn. I reached out to hand him the bill, for a brief second the tips of his fingers and mine touch; he took the bill and very clearly and firmly said: thank you! I responded: you’re welcome!
I turned the corner. And here is what I was left with for a good while after that. Not a good feeling because I had “done something good.” Not regrets for doing something that I normally don’t do. I was left with this distinct impression of the man’s fingers touching mine, my fingers touching his, and his words of gratitude.
Social justice is the work of compassion driven by the human ability to recognize suffering in others and to choose to do something about it. If I had a lot of money to give away, handing it out on street corners would probably not be the best use of my money for alleviating human suffering. I don’t know what my ten dollar gift will do for that man. I know that for a moment we touched. For a moment, I got out of my head and saw, heard and felt another human being, and that did something for me. It was one more step out of my head and into my heart. Maybe it will be of some help to him, too.