We’ve all seen them.
On the highway off ramps, in city streets, and outside shopping malls. Panhandlers.
If you’re like 98% of the people I know, then you look the other way. You avert your eyes at stoplights, you cross the street before they can talk to you, or you say with all the apology you can muster “Sorry, I don’t have anything.”
They are the “scum”, and jerks who can’t get a job like everyone else and struggle like you’re struggling. Their parents probably didn’t pay attention to them, they’re probably drug addicts, and some might even HAVE jobs in the “real world” and are just scamming you. You and everyone else.
I remember when I used to care. I remember when it used to make me so sad that I couldn’t not do something, and I remember the stares and sighs I got from my friends and family. I remember giving a homeless guy in Chattanooga my graduation quilt, something my great grandma knitted for me before she died, because it was November and he looked cold. I hope he kept it (he was sleeping when I left it by his head), and I hope he wonders who Cassandre Joann Nichole Leigh Dull is.
She sewed my name on the corner.
I remember when I cared about the things that really mattered, and it wasn’t all about bills and boys and bullshit. I remember what life used to mean, and I know what it means now. I drive by those signs all the time, those people that hold them, and the sad lonely eyes that (more often than not) stare at the ground in shame. I moved here almost four years ago, and along with my driving skills, I have become hardened to how things really are.
I lived with a drug addict for two and half years. I know how despair can make a person stoop to unimaginable lows. I know what it means to be so broke that you can barely fathom the idea of tomorrow, and I know what desperation feels like. To say that everyone deserves a chance, that everyone deserves to enjoy a good day free from their personal pain, to say these things would be to speak the truth. I don’t know that every panhandler is a drug addict, but I have seen enough of Intervention to know that lots of them probably are.
I have lived enough of my own life, seeing the pain of someone I love, to know what it means to get to that point.
For the first time in a long time, I rolled down my window today and gave a man two dollars. He thanked me, waved when the light finally turned green, and that was the end. I don’t normally carry cash, and I found myself doing what everyone does when faced with a red light and a sign outside. I started playing with my phone, I averted my eyes, and I became very ashamed. I have cash today, and there is no reason why I should make his journey any harder than it already is.
So I did what I used to, I helped. In my small and insignificant way, I’d like to think I gave him dinner. Or I’m helping him get high later tonight.
Either way, he’ll have something for himself later. And that’s all that matters. That’s all the really matters.