Going into the convenience store in a somewhat rough neighborhood this afternoon, I met William. The introduction started with him asking me if I had any spare change with an expression that was likely contrived but born out of desperation of some sort, just the same. I told him that I didn’t just yet, but would on my way out. I had a $20 bill and am willing to help the man out but nothing suggested $20 worth of help at this point.
Coming back out, I went over to William and offered him several one dollar bills asking him if he’s having tough times. He said he’s been looking for work but just can’t find any and that he lives just a block away with his sister while pointing in the direction of his new home as he had just moved there recently. We talked for a while and parted ways, with William telling me while holding his hand over his heart that our time together had “made his day.”
The cynics say, “he’ll buy booze” or “he’s lazy and needs to get a job” or some related type of possible truth. All I know is William’s testimony and the fact that I am glad that I met William. It’s not about the money; the money was minimal and you better believe that wouldn’t have “made” his day. It’s that we got to know each other’s names and each of us got a glimpse, even if it was still relatively vague and distant, into somebody else’s world. It’s a break from the busyness and self-absorption to relate to another person at the point where they find themselves. It’s giving instead of wanting with hopeful laughter in the face of the desperation. It’s respect between two people with nothing and everything in common.
I left William better than I found him and he impacted me enough that I am writing about him now. Life happened because it will if we let it. The alternatives of brushing him off, never asking his name, handing him a dollar and moving on, judging, condemning or ridiculing would have stolen life from me; not from William. William likely has a lifetime of disregard; another cold or apathetic response to his plea wouldn’t have surprised him or hurt him any more than he has already been hurt. I would have been the one that suffered, though, giving fear a stronghold through my inaction. Fear of people different from me and practice in that insecurity to develop a narcissistic selfishness that would only expand to cover a broader cross-section of people less desperate than William until life is only about me in my own little bubble of fear.
I’ve walked past other William’s before, and I’ve stopped for some, too. Today, I am glad that I stopped and received the Life of the interaction with William, nurturing freedom while refusing to be captive to the fear. That was a win for me; you win some, you lose some, so we should always cherish the wins.