One day last week during my lunch break, I packed our little girl in the car and set out to purchase an activity jumper for her. “Are you ready to go on an adventure?” I said in an overly excited voice I save just for her as I buckled her into her carseat. I call every outing with our girl an adventure as a way to pep both her and me up before each outing. I never know what mood she’ll decide to embrace as she stares rear-facing at the beige backseat of our car in solitude. When I describe it that way, I’m surprised she doesn’t cry more while confined to the back of the car.
On our way, we made a short detour to Walmart so I could get cash out and grab a few essentials such as eggs, lettuce… and Mike and Ike’s — it’d been a long week and chewy candy is my Ben & Jerry’s. At the register, I got some extra cash out to avoid future situations of having no cash on hand. And then Baby Girl and I were in the car again, driving to meet someone named Lauren from Craigslist, the seller of the activity jumper.
As we pulled up to the stop sign to leave the Walmart parking lot, I noticed a man with his wife and two young children. The man’s wife was sitting in the grass with a toddler by her side and an infant in a stroller. The man stood with a sign that read Have Two Children. Need Work. Need Food. Need… I didn’t have a chance to read the rest of the sign because I was at the stop sign. And I needed to turn right. So I rolled down my window and hastily fumbled in my wallet, which was full of $20’s and only $20’s. So I handed the man a $20, to which he replied “Thank you. God bless you.” as I wordlessly rolled up the window and sped away.
Initially, I felt tears at the corners of my eyes as I thought, Those poor children. That poor family. But I had a 20-minute drive ahead of me, and as my emotions cleared, my thoughts began evolving. What were you thinking? How do you even know they needed that money? If they were at Walmart, they obviously drove there in a car. And they had materials to make a sign. I started feeling sick to my stomach. And then I began to assume the worst. What if that whole scene was just that guy’s day job? He just goes to a different locations each day and brings his family along for extra sympathy. And you got duped. You fell for the ruse and gave them $20! You didn’t have a $5, and so you gave them a $20?? The same $20 you have to stretch over an entire month for your own personal spending? Great job.
Living in New York City made me less than trusting of people asking for money. I saw the same people day after day on the subway telling elaborate stories of their misfortunes and then going around from person to person asking for money. They were professional peddlers. And for people who had never heard their speech (aka all the tourists), it was easy money. I used to give them money until I saw the same people on different corners each and every day. Or on different trains. I had people approach me individually with detailed tales of why I needed to give them cash. And after a few months of being surrounded by these antics, I turned off my emotions and just ignored it all. When we moved to Boston, it was the same: a large homeless population finding creative ways to get cash from the general public. I knew I’d become desensitized and hardened, and I didn’t like it. But after a few times of offering a few peddlers food instead of cash and being turned down, I didn’t feel so bad.
Why didn’t I offer that family a hot meal? Had I learned nothing from living in big cities? I felt dumb. Really dumb. I decided I wouldn’t tell Johnny what I’d done.
My thoughts were interrupted when we arrived at our destination. The Craigslist purchase went swimmingly. The jumper looked brand new, Lauren was extremely normal and not creepy, and I was very pleased with the whole encounter as I began the drive home. Baby Girl’s cries erupted from the backseat, her cue to me that she was ready for her lunch break. And my mind wandered back to earlier, my impulsive moment of generosity. And I decided I was okay with what I’d done. Maybe the guy was a professional peddler. So what. The money was for his children. They shouldn’t have to suffer. And maybe he and his family did need the money. Who am I to guess what they’re actually going through in life? Baby Girl and I drove past the corner where the little family had been standing just 40 minutes earlier. They were no longer there, and no trace of them remained, as if it had never even happened.
Later, Johnny asked me how the Craigslist purchase had gone.
“Good! Really good. The jumper’s in perfect condition.”
“I gave $20 to a guy and his family.”
And I explained it all.
And Johnny said, “It’s okay. I’m glad you did it. I’m sure they needed the money more than we do.”
And maybe he was glad. Or maybe he was just making me feel better. But either way, it made me feel better. And that’s why I love him. And if I had it to do again, maybe I’d do it just the same.