It was Saturday night, and my kids’ marching band had just taken 1st place overall in a competition. As is the tradition in our band program, we stopped at a McDonalds to let the kids eat and hang out before heading home. The parents usually arrive first to place the orders for our kids and get our meals before the 65 overly stimulated high school students arrive in the bus. It was pretty cold out, so I was in a bit of a rush to get inside and warm up. As I tore open the door to the restaurant, I half-noticed a person huddled by the door with a cardboard sign, then continued on my way inside to complete my mission to order chicken nuggets and coffee. After placing my order, I followed the unspoken rule of courtesy and stepped to the side to wait for my number to be called. My fingertips were numb from the cold, so started rubbing my hands together, and that’s when it really registered. I paused to make sure I had some cash, and put my wallet back in my bag.
Order 256! “That’s me” I proclaim as I take my tray from the cashier and made my way to join the other moms at the table. “Did you see that outside”? one of the other parents asked as I took my seat. My curiosity was peaked as I wondered how these church-going, volunteering, opinionated women were going to act when nobody important was listening. “Yeah, I saw it” one of the other moms replied. Just then the bus pulled up, and the conversation was cut short as the parents all started watching out for the kids to come in. Within seconds there was a huge line at the cashier, and the restaurant exploded in noise.
After my kids came to get their food, and everyone had settled into eating and talking about the trophies we were bringing home with us, I pulled some money out of my wallet and snuck away from the table. It’s not that I was trying to hide my decision to give the gentleman outside some money, because I wasn’t. It is my money and I can do what I want with it. It’s just that I generally make it a point to practice acts of kindness with no fan fair. I believe that the karmic return in giving is multiplied when it is done anonymously and since I am indeed a sinner in need of as much good karma as I can get, I have adopted this principle as thoroughly as I am able. Anyway, I slipped outside to give the man what I had to give, and was pleased to see several of our children out there showing a giving heart as well. I slipped back inside, and took my place back at the table with other the other moms. My oldest daughter had joined them and was sitting across from me. She whispered “mom, did you see the man outside? We should help him out.” My heart was proud, and I winked at her, which told her that I already had. She smiled, kissed me on the cheek and went back to join her friends.
A few moments later, standing right outside the window where we sat was the gentleman from outside and several of our band students, taking a selfie together. Everyone was smiling, kids, grown up, everyone. I said “Oh look, they are taking a selfie”. “Oh my God, that’s just gross!” said one of the other moms, who had just been saying how they planned on going to church in the morning since it was an early night for us. “Why?” I asked out of pure curiosity. The mom ignored the question of why, but went on to say “It’s like I tell my kids. Most of those people have more money than we do. That’s why we don’t ever give them anything”. Mind blown. I mean really? You really think that that guy has more money than we do, and that he just chooses to sit outside in the mulch at the McDonalds in 30 degree weather with barely any coat and holes in his shoes, begging for spare change? It amazes me what people tell themselves in order to disguise hypocrisy. Another mom piped in “We don’t give homeless people money because they are just going to buy drugs or alcohol with it anyway. If they want to do that stuff, they should get a job”. Mind blown again. It became very obvious to me that these women have always been fortunate enough to live a sheltered life, free from any pain or suffering. Obviously they have never experienced trauma so deep and awful that it causes them to spiral into the depths of addiction. That guy could be a soldier suffering from PTSD. He could be a man who lost his wife and children in an accident. He could have mental health issues that have gone untreated for so long that he has forgotten what hope looks like. Whatever his situation is really isn’t any of our business, and it is certainly not our place to cast judgment.
I spoke. “So what if he has an addiction? If a few dollars keeps him warm tonight, makes him forget his pain for a while, what harm is that really doing?” The topic of conversation was instantly changed, onto talks of Halloween, the upcoming trip to Memphis, whatever. I began to notice that I was being slightly excluded from the group for the rest of our time at McDonalds. My comments weren’t being acknowledged, nobody was laughing at my hilariously witty comebacks. It kind of pissed me off that they reacted that way simply because I spoke my mind. I could have made it much worse. I could have stood up, made a big scene, lectured the table on how they are really no better than the man sitting in the landscaping outside. But in the end, I chose to just ignore their behavior. It is their choice to live the rest of their lives thinking that homeless people are really rich people in disguise, or to feel that that addicts don’t deserve kindness. I just hope they never have to depend on strangers for a dollar.