A situation at Chick-fil-A broke my heart tonight and left me pondering our individual impact on humanity. (Before you ask, this article has nothing to do with the current controversy. I'll leave you to see those answers for yourself.)
Navigating through the traffic to get there was more complicated than I wanted to fool with. After getting close to the store, I tossed my plans out the window and decided to return at a later date.
People from everywhere were heading to Chick-fil-A. Families, groups and individuals were parking were even in the lot next to the restaurant and walking over to support the Chick-fil-A Customer Appreciation Day. Drivers were having to pay attention as people darted in between cars. The situation was challenging at best.
When I was doing my best not to hit anyone, a couple standing on the corner caught my eye. There is no way for me to be sure, but it looked like a mother and son. She was holding a cardboard sign. The intent was obvious. I've seen others do the same thing on countless occasions. If you are honest with yourself, then you have seen them too.
The heavy traffic moved along more slowly than a three legged turtle. I wanted to get to the couple but I couldn't. They were on another road and our paths would not cross. I watched and hoped that someone would pause for them but I never saw anyone do it.
As I continued navigating through the sea of cars, another panhandler caught my eye. This time traffic was stopped so we had a brief exchange. I offered an unopened bottle of water. She eagerly took it, ripped the cap off and chugged it down.
In between slurps, she shared her story. She said that she wanted to work (and seemed sincere). The problem is that she had messed up in a big way. After being released from jail, she and found herself behind bars of a different sort. No one wants to take a chance by hiring an ex-felon. It's risky. It's scary. It's unpredictable.
This woman's story is a repeat of one that I've heard before. Instead of being able to become productive, society kicks them to the curb. They are some of the faceless, nameless people that we choose not to see. We drive a little faster as we pass them by or turn the other way to avoid them.
Most people were doing this tonight. She asked why I stopped when others didn't. It was an odd twist in the conversation. No one has ever asked me that. I frequently carry an extra bottle of water in the car and have paused on several occasions to hand it out the window. No one has ever turned it down.
My curiosity has always led me to wonder what situations create beggars. Sometimes the panhandlers are mentally ill street people who no longer have skills to function in society. They live in the dark recesses of an underworld that we hope never to see.
Other people are homeless and just need a hand up. They are people who are like you and me except they have no place to live. The situation is often temporary but homelessness can also be the first step down a long spiral staircase.
I've talked with throwaways who wanted a safe place to stay and for someone to care about them. I've also seen them tumble through the cracks as fallout in a flawed system.
In these many conversations, no one has ever asked me why I stopped when others didn't. The panhandler wasn't demanding. She seemed simply to be curious. What she really was asking is what makes some people want to take a risk and others turn away.
My curiosity was turned inside out. It was as though the other side of the reflective mirror reached out and spoke. I searched for words that would not come. Our eyes locked, time stopped. All the while, the question was suspended in midair.
The best that I could come up with is that sometimes there are no answers. She shrugged and agreed. Then she thanked me and stepped back to the curb. Eventually, the line of cars began to edge forward.
As I pulled away, I silently asked myself why, in this world of plenty are some people forced to beg for alms. This time, there is a new twist in the silent conversation. Why in this world, do so few people show compassion for one another.
As I pulled away and thought about the ex-felon and the other couple who might be the mother and son. This is a question seems to be one that has no good answer. Perhaps, finding the answer is an unpredictable quest that we should all undertake.
What poor people need in a food pantry box