Friday, April 10, 2009

Like A Good Neighbor, Next Time I Won't

Here’s the story of how my civic responsibility almost turned into civil unrest.

I was shopping at the grocery store this week when a homeless man approached me asking for his own stimulus package. Not only was he asking for money, but he was walking in between cars and not paying attention around him. He could’ve been hit by a car.

People may think it, but not everyone will say it, so I will. I want to believe this guy was really down on his luck, I want to believe that me giving him some money would help him out of his bad situation.

But we’ve seen so many stories about people who take advantage of and play on the sympathies of kind-hearted people. In other words, my skepticism got the better of me.

I decided to tell the store about the panhandler.

So imagine my surprise when I was accosted, not by the homeless man in the parking lot, not by the store manager, but by a woman standing in line who overheard me tattling on the panhandler.

I was in such shock that this woman was blocking me with her cart, yelling at me while shaking an accusatory finger, that I only remember a couple of phrases she spit out during her tantrum. “I can’t believe you won’t leave people alone.” “Who do you think you are?” And at the end of her tirade she gave me the classic, “you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

I’m Irish Catholic by culture, not by choice. I’ve already got a lot to be ashamed of and guilty about starting at conception. Complaining about a panhandler is not sending me scrambling to confession.

So I shrugged my shoulder and summarily replied, “meh…” and walked out of the store.

Look, I only expect three things out of you as a citizen living in these United States of America.

1. Finish high school. Take advantage of a free education.
2. Don’t go to prison. It really screws up your civic duty.
3. Don’t bring children into the world you cannot afford.

In other words, take responsibility for yourself. That’s all I ask.

Harry Truman and Jesus both said the same thing when it came to the poor: they will always be among us. There will always be lost souls who can’t find their way in this world. There are places for this person to get a hot meal and a hand up. I’ve seen the good work the Phoenix Rescue Mission has done to get people’s lives back on track.

But I guess to that woman at the grocery store, because I asked management to remove a panhandler, well, that makes me a Class A Jerk.

Yeah, I’ve got a lot to be ashamed about, but this episode isn’t one of them.

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