What a disaster! Fair warning, this is not a heart warming story about helping somebody in need, it’s about me feeling … humiliated, or silly? What was I thinking? Well let’s see… I wanted to reach out to a human being who’d fallen on hard times. Looking back on my own hardships, I didn’t want to look the other way when someone was hungry and alone. I tried to help Barney, it was not appreciated, and now all I’m feeling is embarrassed.
I’m no stranger to hardship, I know what it feels like to worry about putting food on the table with nothing but pocket change. I was a single parent with two children who shopped garage sales just to keep clothes on their back. But there were kind people… people who showed they cared, and I remember each and every one like it was yesterday.
One year on Thanksgiving day, when my children were just toddlers, we lived in a tiny scarcely furnished basement apartment. We had the bare necessities, but there was no money for an extravagant dinner by any means. As a matter of fact, all I had was a five pound bag of potatoes and a box of mac and cheese. Until a neighbor who I never even met knocked on my door, introduced herself, and asked if I was cooking a holiday dinner. I told her what I was cooking and she laughed. She was also raising two children and living below poverty level. She told me she had nothing but left-over ham and a frozen bag of peas. We searched both our apartments for enough coins to buy a gallon of milk, then put all our groceries together and made a wonderful dinner.
There were many people who helped me, sometimes it was by bringing me diapers, baked goods, or fixing my car. One lady gave me money for the laundromat because she noticed I was washing my girls clothes by hand. It was the little things, simply a kind gesture that really made a difference. That is exactly the gratitude I wanted to pay forward when I approached Barney.
We all forget that poverty can happen to anybody, even you. Especially today, folks are losing jobs, and even their homes. Some are blessed with family that can offer them shelter, but what about those who aren’t as fortunate? Once that hopeless feeling takes over, believe me, everything goes from bad to worse real quick. Once you’re down, every day can easily become a chain reaction of disasters.
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I chose to approach Barney in the crowded McDonalds where he sat everyday. He was sitting in a booth, grateful I’m sure, for the momentary relief from Phoenix’s 113 degree temps. I was all the way on the other side of the the restaurant, so I had a bit of a hike to deliver Barney’s bag stuffed with everyday necessities.
Barney stood up as I greeted him, smiled, and said, “hello.” Until that moment, I realized I hadn’t even come close to understanding his devastating life. He hadn’t any teeth, and his face was in worse shape from the sun than I can even find the words to describe. I set my bag crammed with goodness on the table. Telling him I wanted to help, and hoped it offered him some comfort. His response?
“Thank you, but I can’t use it.”
What! Can’t use it? Are you kidding me?
He then walked away, leaving me standing there with my stupid bag, feeling like a total dumb ass. I walked out the door and dumped the whole thing in a conveniently located Goodwill box right outside the door. End of Story.