Tony Woodlief’s accounting of his son’s encounter with a beggar is your must read of the day:
I have already seen her, and so, having nothing better to do, I am engaged in a lukewarm internal debate. Should I give her money? What will she do with the money? Should I drive across the street and get her McDonald’s? Don’t poor people eat badly enough as it is? What about teriyaki chicken from a nearby Japanese place? But will she turn her nose up at that? Will the drivers behind me hit their horns when I stop to give her the money or cheeseburger or chicken with rice? Will people look askance at a man stopping to talk to a young woman on the side of the road?
There’s so much to be calculated, you see, in the doing of small good.
Then Caleb sees her. “Dad,” he says, “there’s a woman in the road holding a sign. What does it say?”
“She’s asking for money,” I tell him. We talk about the reasons why a person might be so poor that they take to begging in traffic. They mostly come down to bad choices and illnesses of the heart and mind.
“We should give her some money,” he says.
“Do you want to give her money?” I ask.
“Yes.” So we park near where she is sitting. Cars are passing her, people are averting their gaze.
I give Caleb ten dollars. I don’t tell him that it’s unwise to give a lot, that a drunk can kill herself on too much money. Ten dollars seems like a lot to him, and I suppose for someone who is really going to spend it on food or bus fare to a shelter, it’s enough for now. It’s nothing, though, compared to what she really needs, and I know it, and maybe some part of her knows it, but Caleb doesn’t know it yet, so I give him ten dollars.
I remind him to watch the cars, to look the drivers in the eye and make sure they see him. His brothers and I sit in the minivan while he goes to the curb and waits for a chance to walk out to the girl. Finally a car stops to let him pass. The girl’s face is turned down; she sees nothing but the ground. I watch my son’s narrow shoulders as he crosses the drive, and I am praying that no harm will come to him, not now or ever, that someone who is this loving will be spared the pain of the world, which is when I remember that it is Christmas, the time when we celebrate precisely the opposite, the coming of pure love to suffer for all we who sit with faces turned down, not even knowing what to ask for, knowing only in our crusted-over hearts that anything will help.
You’ll need to go and read the rest. You’ll not be disappointed.