Sunday, July 19, 2009

Trade

On my way into Whole Foods this morning, I notice a man sitting on the sidewalk out front. I have a tendency in recent years to walk by homeless people without giving eye contact. Maybe I'll say hi and smile but I rarely give money, especially since being unemployed. There are many social services available in this area, to the point that people are rumored to travel here from other parts of the country to access them. And I have the perception that many addicts who may or may not have a place to live will collect money on the streets until they have enough for their next purchase, instead of working or showing up at the soup kitchen sober. I'm not sure if that's a completely fair perception. I admire my mom for being someone who ALWAYS stops and gives food or money if she can. She says it's their karma if they're dishonest.



Anyway, Violet stops and smiles at the man on the sidewalk. She hasn't learned to put on her social blinders. He's muttering, difficult to understand, and I herd the girls inside the store. I start thinking about how I'm not very generous with people on the street and what it would be like to be hungry and sitting in front of a grocery store abundantly filled with beautiful, expensive food. My life is easy in comparison to someone in that situation. I can't afford to shop at Whole Paycheck often, but I can afford to support my new Kombucha habit, which requires frequent stops at natural food stores. But the guy sitting out front doesn't ask me for anything, and he's smoking a cigarette and drinking what looks to be coffee.



We return to the car and the guy starts to mutter again. Daisy, Violet and I are all wearing sunglasses and just before I close the driver's side door, he asks me if I have an extra pair. Actually, I do. I find them under some CDs in the center console. They have a decorative piece that is broken off one of the sides but are otherwise fine, so I hand them to him through the window. He walks away then comes back with a pinecone. The kids are excited and fight over who gets to hold it. It is a really nice pinecone. Funny that he gives us something of so much value to the kids.



Daisy asks me why I gave him the sunglasses. I explain that he was homeless. She wonders why he would want sunglasses. I explain that being outside all day would make sunglasses really appreciated. She's worried that I gave him women's glasses, and maybe he should just go buy a men's pair for himself. I explain that he doesn't have the money to buy sunglasses. I think that's a safe assumption, and I'm trying to teach her the concept of money as a scarcity.



She wonders what he does in the rain. She decides he must stand under a tree but then is worried that trees aren't very good shelter in the rain. She wonders how he lost his house and thought that he should have grabbed an umbrella before he left. She thinks that maybe we should have given his pinecone back, and why did he give that to us anyways for a pair of women's sunglasses? She wonders what his house looked like and if there are people who miss him. I'm used to her stream of consciousness style of conversation, so I mainly listen, occasionally attempting to provide a quick answer as she takes a breath between questions. Her line of inquiry shames me in its clarity and compassion.



I realize that although cash flow can be an issue, I have plenty of things in my life, and I should look for more opportunities to share. I do have a habit of setting out bags of stuff that I would otherwise donate to Goodwill by my mailbox. It's fairly common in my area . . . people leave stuff out for free by the curb on a regular basis. Many years ago, one of my rentals didn't come with a fridge. Walking home one night from who know's where, I found a free working fridge about a block from my house and then a free dvd player in the original box a half block away. I felt like I had won the lottery.



But leaving something out by the mailbox is a lazy act of kindness. Next time I'm cleaning out a closet, I think I'll set aside stuff that someone might need then keep it in the car. So when I see someone who I would normally pretend not to see, I will have something to offer. It seems like this would be better than teaching my kids to walk right by without acknowledging that a human is sitting there.

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