Today I was faced with a conundrum.
I had to interpret a situation based solely on the physical in front me. No facts. No other opinions. No back up (AKA, The Husband). Just me. Just one mother, staring at another mother, sitting on the ground in front of our local grocery store, with her very young daughter in her lap, dirty and thin, with a sign that said, "I can't feed my children. Please help." I was alone with my son, and I had nothing to rely on, except my moral compass.
So I began to dig. And dig I did for a while. To be honest, I think I shoved that moral compass so far down in my purse, I had forgotten about it entirely.
In a large city, such as Los Angeles, where I'm pretty sure they demand you leave your morals at the bus stop before entering Hollywood, it's not that unusual for one to maybe become jaded or blind to someone else's misfortunes. It's also not that unusual to see someone asking for money.
The homeless have become as common as the palm tree's here in LA. And lets be honest, even being homeless in Los Angeles has become competitive. You'd better have a creative sign with you, or you can forget any donations. Entrance's to the freeways are like a good read of the National Enquirer. Hollywood Blvd, is filled with your homeless comedians. Just yesterday I saw a man with a sign that read," I slept with Lindsay Lohan, Please Help!" Not but a half a mile from there, another man with a sign that read, "Time Traveler, need a $$$ for a new flux capacitor." Creative right? Then of course we have the very mecca of homeless peddlers, Venice Beach! Where some of the most interesting con artists/homeless people you will ever meet reside. Not only can you get a toe ring, but for a buck ,you can take a picture with a homeless person and bring it home as a souvenir . People asking you for money, is sometimes like people asking you for the time.
As a native New Yorker, I am no stranger to the homeless begging for money. I am also no stranger to being called a sucker, and falling for every sob story out there. When I was younger, I found it incredibly difficult to walk away from anyone asking for money. My heart bled for each person I passed, and there were days where I think I handed out more than I made.
However... I am no saint. My overwhelming sense of compassion for terrible situations sometimes get the best of me, and I act before I think. I once got sucked into watching one of those Sally Field feed the children specials in college, and immediately called up to sponsor a child. A child myself, I had no business offering money I didn't have, and felt so bad when the picture of the child was sent to me I couldn't look at it. My now husband, then boyfriend, put the picture in the freezer until we could muster up enough money to send a check back. The picture lay in the freezer for 4 months. Awful I know.
Luckily, as I got older, I got wiser. Realized the situations for what they were, and now dish out my dollars a little more selectively.
This brings me to today.
Where a woman, who couldn't have been any older than me. Sat on the ground, in front of the grocery store, dirty and hot, her young daughter in her lap. With a sign that read, "I can't feed my children, please help." All while I plopped my $400 bag down in my grocery cart. Pulled out my kids seat protector that lays over the grocery wagon, so my son doesn't dare touch anything he's not suppose to,or get dirty, and pulled out my list of 100 things I needed to buy, to feed MY child.
As I whipped the cart around, noticed the child sitting in this woman's lap, and read her sign. I stood there for a moment. Silent. My initial reaction..."Is this for real?" I felt awful. I felt awful though for one huge reason. I didn't know if I believed her. In fact I was pretty sure I didn't. It's a scam, it has to be, I thought. To quiet the Jimini Cricket in my head, I dug through my purse found a $5 bill and gave it to her. She thanked me kindly, and into the grocery store I went.
BUT...I couldn't stop thinking about it. I just couldn't. Even ripping through a bag of double stuffed Oreo cookies "to keep my son occupied" (I ate 6) didn't help. So I pondered the situation. Even if this was a scam, this poor kid didn't deserve to be involved, right? And oh god what if it wasn't a scam, and this mother is desperate to do anything to feed her children? Was I an awful person for thinking she was lying? I was an awful person. No, I am just a sucker. This was a scam, right? Why was no one else helping her? At this point my brain was on overdrive, my heart strings pulled, and if this were a movie Elton Jon's, "Sorry seems to be the hardest word," would be playing.
Just when I was about to ignore the situation completely, and just keep on moving, wouldn't ya know, I found my moral compass.
I have no idea if what I did was Sucker or Saint, but I'd like to believe if nothing else, maybe that kid had a little something extra tonight.
I would love to hear all your thoughts on this one. I know it's not really funny, and there's no humorous outcome, except for it you think I am a sucker, and that kid is really like 24 and just looks like a kid and they are drinking beer with my $20 and eating Peanut Butter and Banana sandwich's.
What would you have done?