The Other I

December 9, 2009

Street beggars

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:42 pm

I doubt there are few of us who are tall enough to look as if we have anything in our pockets who have not been approached on the street by someone asking for money.  My experiences are pretty benign but the way I respond to these apparent needs must tell me something about myself and how I’ve changed.  My responses may be not be more mature.  They may merely be more cynical, callous, or downright selfish.  But they are different.

Shortly after I left Maryknoll and my finances were seriously strained, a young good-looking black man approached me as I was about to go into the supermarket.  His mother was dying and he needed $25 to get to her bedside.  Could I help?  It was my food money but I gave it to him.  The whole lot.  I might have been a little hungry for the next few days but I did have a glow of virtue.  Until he approached me several weeks later with the same story.  He didn’t even remember my face.

Which might explain my response to the middle-aged man who approached us in London last week and asked if we could change a £20 (about $35) note.  My husband didn’t even pause.  “I’m sorry, no” he said.  “No,” I said as we walked on.  “You can’t risk it, can you?”

If I like their music, I sometimes drop change into the plates of buskers.  And one night walking back to our  hotel in London I gave some loose change to an obviously stoned young man who was playing a traffic cone in Trafalgar Square.  He wasn’t very good, but he made me laugh.

Another time when we were in London, a particular scam in which fake casts were used to attract donations was doing the rounds.  I had just read about it when I saw a young, very attractive and well-groomed young woman sitting on the side-walk outside our local grocery store.  One leg was stretched out in front of her, covered in an impeccably clean cast, and she was begging.  I walked by.  And then I turned around and went back.  I hunched down to her level and gave her a pound.  “Don’t do this,” I said.  “There are other ways you can survive.”

She just looked at me.  I’ve wondered a hundred times what became of her.

But here is my absolutely favourite begging story.  My brother who has been a paraplegic since birth was about six years old.  He was standing with his crutches outside the building where my father has his law office, waiting for him to bring the car around from the garage where it was parked.  It was the week before Christmas and the traffic was heavy so my brother was waiting for quite some time.  By chance he was holding his hat in his hand, and in the process he collected quite a bit of change.

We always told him it was quite brilliant the way he managed to turn his handicap into a money-maker.  He hadn’t even read Dickens yet and the story of Scrooge and Little Timothy.  But he wasn’t a natural beggar, and positively avoided making capital with his crutches ever again.


1 Comment »

  1. I’m sure there’s some grown adult out there still feeling the glow from the alms he gave as a child to one ‘Tiny Tim’ the week before Christmas…. still nodding at the the story to his kids and their kids after all these years.


    Comment by jooliedee — December 9, 2009 @ 9:18 pm | Reply

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