Thursday, September 22, 2022

so that happened

 I needed a few things so during my lunch break I went to the local wal-mart.

Th. e good news is that they once again have the 60% cacao Ghirardelli chips, which is what I use in my morning oatmeal and had been having to trek to the Target in Sherman to get. 

The surprising thing was.....I got panhandled. INSIDE the wal-mart.

Yeah, I was looking to see what kind of Asian-style sauces they had (not what I was looking for, but Pruett's has it) and a woman walked up to me and said she was running out of gasoline, was parked in the lot, was trying to get to Dallas where a relative (mother, maybe?) was in the hospital.

Now, normally I don't give money to panhandlers. For one thing: I give money to our local ministerial alliance, which helps people like stranded travelers, but has a little bit of a vetting process to make sure the resources are going to someone truly in need. But I guess she caught me at a vulnerable moment. 

"Wait a moment," I said, "I might have five dollars." (I had more than that, but the smallest other bill was a $20, and honestly, that seemed a bit much for a total stranger who might not have been telling the truth). 

I had five singles, so I gave her that. She thanked me and God-blessed me and everything, and left.

And then I thought about it for the rest of the day: Was she playing me? I mean, yeah, if she was, that's on her, I guess, and $5 probably wouldn't allow someone to do MUCH damage to themselves if it was used for drugs, I said I never know what to do. 

 I also found myself wondering: what happens to the whole "you did it to the least of these" thing when the person you wind up doing for actually isn't, and isn't telling you the truth? I mean, I guess again it's on them, but....a person only has so much resources (Well, short of selling all you have and giving the money to the poor).

But I don't know. What I did wouldn't help MUCH if she really was trying to get to Dallas - five bucks will buy maybe a gallon and a half of gas, and depending on the car that's maybe 30 miles on the highway (And Dallas is a good 100 miles from here, so not quite 1/3 of the way). I don't know. 

It is an ethical dilemma, though. And I have heard people - people with strong ethics and strong faith - actually argue both sides of it. And really, yes, something like the ministerial alliance is probably better at this, but, I didn't remember them in the moment, and anyway, whichever church was the one people are supposed to go to THIS week would be some distance from the wal-mart.

But I don't KNOW the "most ethical" course of action in cases like that. If she had said she was hungry, I could have bought food for her. But I was in a hurry and couldn't say "okay, let's go to the gas station here and you can fill up your car and I'll pay for it" or some such. I don't know.

People tell me I take responsibility for things that really aren't my responsibility, and that's probably true. But I can't do otherwise and now that I've realized that I also see that my mom does the same thing, so I probably learned it from her.

I don't know any more. So often it seems when I try to help or do something good it either doesn't come off or sometimes it even backfires. Like, what if I just advanced the tendency further, and now people will feel more empowered to panhandle in the groceries? I admit if that happened regularly - I do NOT like being approached by strangers, and I don't like being hit up for money - well, if it becomes a thing maybe I give up and just do ALL my groceries as "order online, pick up at the curb" even as much as I hate that and feel disempowered by the whole process (I noticed that in 2020 when I wasn't going in to stores because of the pandemic). 

Or yeah, what if she used it to do something to harm herself - or gave it to someone else who used it for something harmful? Again, I guess that's not on me, but. 

I also had the situation today of my chair coming in a little agitated - the student who was in the wrong lab, my chair did what she could to pave the way for them to get into the RIGHT lab but the student had to do a couple small things. Well, the student NEVER e-mailed my chair back (nor did they e-mail me), they didn't show up to lecture or lab, they haven't done the thing they were supposed to do. And now I'm kind of embarrassed I pulled my chair into this and she spent time and effort on something that was basically a waste. 

So much any more, it feels like when I try to do good, it winds up as a waste.

Also I realized: this is how the past couple years has changed me; at one time I would think (not just about these things, I did make a donation to my denomination's "Week of Compassion" (disaster relief) to help out in Puerto Rico) that "well, I tried to do something good, maybe something good will happen for me" but now I realize it was both naïve and selfish of me to think that I might get something back in return; that the universe is fundamentally neither fair nor balanced. (And that the good I can do in no way helps to mitigate the bad). 

But I hope I don't get panhandled again. I might not be so accommodating next time. And I hope that student winds up regretting wasting my chair's time. (My own time? It doesn't matter. As a professor my time matters less than my chair's does). 


1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

"Was she playing me? I mean, yeah, if she was, that's on her, I guess." Exactly right.

I was taking a large piece of art to be reframed. It was raining, so it was covered by two large plastic garbage bags. And someone was panhandling me. Even if I wanted to give him a buck, I wouldn't put down the art in a rainstorm. His situational awareness was lacking.