brother can you spare a dime

True compassion is more than throwing a coin to a beggar. It demands of our humanity that if we live in a society that produces beggars, we are morally commanded to restructure that society. Martin Luther King, Jr. (and forwarded to me by Urban Urchin).

Awhile back Ally asked me how I respond to panhandlers. It's something I've talked about before but wanted to answer again (how sick are you of hearing me carry on about this? Go on, be honest I can take it).

Let me be clear that I in no way believe that giving a few dollars to a guy on the street ends homelessness. It's not strategic or life changing. It's not the end of the story or the happy ending. But to the individual it matters a great deal. When someone asks for help and it is given we are saying with our gesture I see you. I care enough to stop. It matters to me that you are suffering. That person, however momentarily, can accept our compassion and incorporate into his/her life situation. If that means he buys a hot dog, pays off a debt, or buys a fifth, that's not for me to judge. I think it's far to easy to get caught up in the I don't want that person to buy drugs, sex, drink and while that can/should be a consideration, then we should apply that thinking to all expenses. Because when I buy certain clothes I am most certainly fueling child labor. Or when I buy that gallon of gas I am supporting the nation's worst addiction of all. When I pay my taxes I am contributing to war.

Obviously some of those things we have more control than others. I can select where I buy my coffee more easily than deciphering the % of my income going to bombs and guns. And I might never know how the guy on the street will use my money. But if I am asked and I have the money then I share it for little more reason than the asking.

I would say I give money to folks on the street 4 or 5 times a week on average. Because I have the great fortune of being able to offer more than that when possible I offer a bed or a referral or a phone number too. Some folks aren't interested in more but I'd say most are. And what I glean from that, what seems to matter most is that I've stopped and listened. I've looked them in the eye and I've acknowledged their despair.

Because, and I want to scream this from the rooftops so please forgive me if it sounds preachy and bullheaded and what-have-you but these are HUMAN BEINGS IN SUFFERING. THEY ARE SUFFERING. It's incredibly simple to me in that way. How this country continues to turn it's back on poverty will never cease to amaze me. It will never cease to sadden and torment and challenge me. Because if one of us is suffering then we are all suffering. Because I am you, and you are me. It doesn't matter to me if your horse fell in a well and you are acting like an asshole and you deserve what you get and you goddamn need to get a job. All of that only serves to distract me from their suffering, from being in this moment with this person who is asking for help.

So that is a very long winded way of saying that I simply respond. And I hope with all that hopes within me that if I ever needed a place to sleep or five bucks or a bowl of food that a stranger would hear my cry and answer it too. Because we are all in this crazy tragic magnificent confusing unfair beautiful world together. And until there is no suffering we need to work all the angles, from the dude on the street to the policy dudes on the Hill.