Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Million Dollars

I was walking out of the hotel struggling under the weight of two heavy bags and an overloaded purse. Wondering why there is never a bellman when you need one, I plunged into the frigid air bracing myself against the blast of wind that immediately engulfed me. A man was walking towards me and I briefly thought, "Maybe he will offer to help me!!" but no, he smiled and said, "Cold isn't it?".

I responded instead of just smiling back and nodding, "Freeze your lungs".

He stopped and turned around towards me and began to speak, "The strangest thing happened.." he began. To not be rude, I stopped and gave him my attention, thinking this couldn't take long and I mercifully put down the baggage...."I was hit by a Transylvania college student while traveling with my family. He had no insurance and my car is wrecked. We spent the night in the emergency room at the hospital...." Yes, there is a hospital directly across the intersection from the hotel...."because my insurance does not have rental. I am walking around trying to find some help."

I offered some "help", "Go into the hotel and find the number for Southland Christian Church, they are the largest church in the area and I think they might be able to help some way".

"You go to that church?"

"I use to, when I lived here."

"Where do you live now?"


He began to walk towards the doors, "I only need eight more dollars to get a room at the Quality Inn."


I picked up my bags and began to walk away, but something in my heart gave a tug and I reached into my purse and pulled out a five dollar bill and offered it to him. "It's not $8 but it's all I have." (why did I lie?)

He took it and said, "It's like a million dollars to me."

We parted and he went into the hotel and I made the final 30 yards to the car mentally kicking myself in the butt for once again handing money over to a panhandler.

But was he?

It was most certainly one of the better stories I've heard. And truth be told, I've given money to a lot less creative solicitations. Still, it was awfully cold outside!

I remember the first time I was hit up for "change". I was in the drive thru off Interstate 75. I was so startled that I remember letting out a scream when a man leaned into my window and requested money to eat. I rolled my window up and drove away. I immediately felt bad and the horribleness of it stayed with me all day.

When I see them standing close to the highways with their signs, "Unemployed Vet' or "Lost Job" and just the other day, "Traveling through and hungry" I think how unbelievably sad it is. How they stand there with that vacant look, not making any eye contact. In rags.

And I wonder if they are professional panhandlers.

And when I meet someone as I did today, someone who may be in real need, I do not like the fact that I am cynical and jaded.

A million dollars. It makes me smile.


Lisa :-] said...

You never can tell...can you?

I HATE panhandlers. I am always afraid that if I give them money, they are going to take that money and buy drugs or booze and then show up at that same corner the next day looking for more money to buy more drugs or more booze.

But then there's the one that has the story or the look that grabs your heart, and yanks. And you have to ask yourself...what harm will it do to me to buy into that?

Great post, Mary.

Anonymous said...

I have had so many people try to stop me from giving money to panhandlers or tell me off after they see me do so. I don't see giving the money I usually spend at Starbucks to someone as a big deal. And if he/she buys liquor(as a man in my area whom I often speak with and give cash does), I look at it like this~ Maybe if I spent my days roaming from shelter to shelter or door front to door front, I'd drink too much too. I don't know where that person has been or what that person has seen, but I know all of us could take a mighty fall.

Cynthia said...

We develop cynicism so we won't get hurt, but it ends up hurting us too. We can't really help it, though. I'd still rather be a patsy every now and then than ignore the chance to really help someone's real need.

Kathy said...

A million dollars. How nice it is that the small amount you gave amounted to so much for someone.

That comment would have made my day and made me smile too. :)

Michelle said...

I hate going into Minneapolis. It never fails I am hit up for money or cigarettes.
It was very nice of you to give the guy the money but I don't think I would have. I would have wished him luck and went on my way.

emmapeelDallas said...

Hmmm, as was recently said to me…(I’m paraphrasing here)…just because someone chooses to live a lifestyle that you do not understand does not mean he’s going to take that money to buy drugs or booze and then show up at the same corner the next day looking for more money to buy more drugs or more booze. Of course, he could. But so what if he does? What about giving people the benefit of the doubt? On my way to grad school, driving through a seedy area of town, I regularly gave a dollar or so to a guy who wore a sign that said, “Need money for beer…”

Lisa :-] said...


Living in one's car does not indicate that one indugles in self-destructive (not to mention illegal) habits which one chooses to finance by standing on a street corner with one's hand out.

I don't disapprove of someone living in his car. I DO disapprove of depndency upon alcohol or drugs or even cigarettes. A person may have a great down-and-out reason that they are addicted to whatever substance. But that doesn't mean I have to enable their addiction by plunking a dollar in their hand. Why not just put a gun to their head?