Last Monday we all went shopping on State Street in Santa Barbara - school is coming up for the girls, and I actually *like* shopping (believe it or not), and it is a lunch and hangout opportunity, and in the middle of this with all my girls spread around five different stores, while I was standing out on the sidewalk, I encountered a beggar in a wheelchair.
Actually first I observed the beggar; he solicited money from some German tourists, rather aggressively, and they didn't know what to make of him, and finally gave him some money. It left me rather ill disposed toward the beggar; here are these tourists, and this is the impression they get of America?
So next he approached me, and asked if I could spare any change, and I said "no", curtly. And then rather unnecessarily I added "guilt doesn't work on me". I wasn't in a bad mood, I really don't know why I was so rude, but, well... I was. He looked at me for a moment, and started to roll away, but then he spun around and said: "You know, I didn't used to be this way. You think I want to be in a wheelchair? I just hope you never know what it's like to be me." And then he rolled away.
Was that a mind bomb. I spent the next hour thinking about what he said, what it would be like to be him. I felt terrible, first because I'd treated him so badly, and second because he was right; I had not looked past the begging and the wheelchair and seen a person. I thought about this as my kids were buying nice clothes in nice boutiques, and we were all smiling and happy. I'm sure he felt bad too; it is one thing to have to beg, and another to hear "no" after "no", but I'd guess not too many people are downright rude about it.
So we're walking back to our car, and I see the beggar, and he's sitting in a doorway. And we all walk past him, and I know he's seen me too... and I'm thinking... and suddenly I walked back to him. "I thought about what you said, you were right", I blurted, "Thanks for what you said. You made me think." And I handed him a twenty. He didn't take it right away. But then he did, and he said "cool man, thanks." And I said, "I just hope you never know what it's like to be me." Meaning, what it's like to be an asshole. And he smiled, and I smiled.
It might have been the best part of a great weekend. I went from feeling like crap to feeling great in about 30 seconds. And it wasn't the $20, it was the connection. I learned something about myself. From the beggar next door.