A few months ago I was walking through the train station to catch an early train. To where? I don't really remember. I stopped into Dunkin Donuts for an egg sandwich and on my way out, a man was asking for money. I stopped.
I work in Center City Philadelphia. People are asking for money every day. It pains me as I walk past. And I do just walk by and wish them a good day. I do have money to give, but I also know that it's rare the money is going to actual food. It's not that I don't care, I do. I have a habit of coming across folks experiencing homelessness who are in distress (it's here where I take a break and search through my archives to see if I wrote about the time I, along with others, came across a man we thought was dead - couldn't find a pulse! - who, as soon as ambulance sirens were in the distance, bounced up and asked for beef jerky. It turns out I did not write about this. Until now.) Philadelphia is lucky to be home to several amazing outreach organizations (Project H.O.M.E., notably) who also reach out to individuals who want to help and don't quite know how. I know that the best thing for me to do is support organizations that provide assistance to folks most in need, and to treat these folks with respect. I know that the individuals I see on my daily route are in close to assistance and shelters. I know help is available to them, and I also know they are known to the local organizations. Is it a perfect situation? No.
He asked me for $3.49, because that's what a sandwich costs. I should have gone back into the store and bought a sandwich for him. I should have. I was going to just walk away, and I even started to. But I felt guilty. I turned around, reached into my purse and pulled out some coins lying at the bottom and handed them over. I was feeling so proud. Look at me! Giving! I never do this! It's probably going to hooch! But who cares! I'm such a good person!
My ego is kind of a jerk sometimes. And no, smug is not a good look for me.
I dropped the coins into his hand and he looked at me like I had ten, disgusting heads and said, "I told you a sandwich costs $3.49."
The ungrateful, inconsiderate...
I walked away. I had given him over a dollar! He was well on his way and he seriously should have said thank you.
If you're wondering, the view from my high horse is great.
I kept replaying the scene in my mind for the duration of the train ride. I kept thinking of the look on his face, of being totally annoyed. I felt hurt. I got less and less annoyed, and I started feeling more and more guilty. I could have given him more and I didn't. I could have, should have, bought the sandwich and I didn't. And you should never give with the expectation of being thanked, that's not the point of giving. I couldn't change anything from my seat on the train.
My mind kept wandering back to the look on his face. The look of disgust and disappointment. And then it hit me: I make that face.
I often look at situations and think, "This is it?" or "Uh, this isn't what I asked for." I say "thanks, but..." I throw a hissy fit when the dryers at the laundromat dry half of my clothes before breaking. I think annoyed thoughts when my apartment is only cooled down to 84 with the air running at full blast. I... could go on. I'm really not as grateful as I should be. I don't want to make that face, or give that feeling, to anyone. I AM grateful.
I wish I could have changed the situation in the train station. I wish I could have done the right thing. But selfishly, I gleaned a lesson from my less than stellar behavior: I always want to be grateful, even for the little things, even for the halfsies, even for the giant failures. Sometimes it's a little taxing to be grateful for something I'm, uh, not enthused about, but the overall benefit is worth it.