Last week was hell. Hell I tell you! I barely made it through the week and 90% of the time I was shrouded in a pharmaceutical haze. Floating through the week, praying for death to come or spring to pass, which ever would be first, I eventually survived and made it to Friday. After a horrendous week I arrived home on Friday afternoon to be met by a man, a man I have never met before, a man that freaked me out, a man that had me question our society’s social empathy.
Every day I drive past droves of beggars on my way to work. I don’t like them and they are like a parasitic infection in society for which there currently is no cure. The majority of them are just too damn lazy to work and is on the street by choice and not by circumstance. Some fake disabilities and others wittingly prey on our kindness trying to make us feel guilty. Very few of these beggars are actually in dire straits as they would like us to believe. Drawing a distinction between them is also almost impossible because who has the time to screen all the beggars on your daily route to determine who should be helped and who not.
In the past few years my empathy for beggars has dwindled. You see I use to be naive and often times wondered what went wrong in these people’s lives. What culmination of circumstances could cause a person to end up on the street. After an experience with one particular beggar my view changed. You see being berated by a beggar is not the way I like to start my day. On this specific Tuesday a twenty something year old beggar decided to take out his inner rage on me. He walked up to my slightly opened window and started screaming “Fuck you faggot, you son of a bitch!” Being quite shocked that he apparently knew my mother and could tell I was gay I rolled up my window and flipped him the finger. I still drive past him every day, but now we just look at each other with the contempt we both believe the other deserves.
Carrying cardboard signs that read “I’d rather beg than steal” also doesn’t contribute much towards me giving the carrier money. Firstly, I don’t like being indirectly threatened that if I don’t give you cash you’d resort to crime – isn’t that called extortion and in itself a crime anyway? Some even have the audacity to write that they are willing to “work” for food and clothes when in actual fact they have no intention of doing any work - they just want your money! After all why should he toil for hours like the rest of us if he could make more money standing at one spot having people bring cash to him?
We all unfortunately have to deal with beggars and these days it’s very difficult to avoid them. Lately they have even made their way into our neighbourhoods and the deceptions they use are becoming more sophisticated. Just a couple of weeks ago a desperate sounding man rang our door bell. My husband spoke to him over the intercom system and he expressed genuine concern for the poor guy’s well being. Unfortunately, these days you can’t let just anybody onto your property and with this hubby send the guy away. Only to learn last week that this guy has been going around the neighbourhood and that his story was a complete fabrication.
So imagine my surprise when I arrived home on Friday, still reeling from hay-fever to find a well dressed man in his late sixties standing in front of my garage door. As I parked my car I closed the automated door hoping the guy would leave. He didn’t! After several calls from him I eventually decided to go outside. He seemed quite frail and wasn’t threatening. As I opened the door the old man began to explain to me his despairing situation. He and his wife came from a small rural town to the city to look for work. A month has passed and still they were unemployed and now they decided to return home and needed money. As I attentively listened to his story I couldn’t help but wonder whether he was the same con artist that have been harassing our neighbourhood. He seemed sincere and he seemed genuinely desperate. I truly felt sorry for him, but I sent him away empty handed.
I remember a lesson from Sunday school where the teacher once asked us if Jesus were to come to us as a beggar would we sent him away. Naturally all of us in class said “No, we’d help him”. I wonder how many of my class mates, who are grown up now, can still say that. I most certainly can’t because had it been Jesus that came to my house I did send him away. We live in a society where we have become desensitised to the plight and suffering of our fellow man. Too many people out there are exploiting the generosity of everyday people and in doing so the truly worthy and suffering are ignored. Beggars and their deceptions have made us immune to feeling empathy as these days it’s hard to tell the difference between a professional beggar and a person in distress. Today it's far easier to simply try and ignore them, avoid all eye contact and pretend they don't exist. It's just a pity that due to this, people that really needs our help now also fades into the distance.
Till next time.
Whoopi Goldberg - "Back to Broadway"