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Four out of Five... Why Was I the Lucky One?

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Over the past 2 days, I've tried to write this post at least a dozen times. I still haven't put together all of my thoughts about it in a coherent manner, so please bear with me. But I have to commit this to words, even if it doesn't make complete sense.

Thursday afternoon, I was in the Rockville, MD area to meet a colleague for coffee. We met up at a shopping center in a very affluent area that isn't close to a Metro station. As I was waiting for the light to turn green so I could pull into the shopping center, I was struck by the fact that there were four people at the intersection begging for money. Two were older white males, one was a young Black male, one was a very young Asian female. I lived in a marginal neighborhood in downtown DC for several years, so I became very proficient at identifying impostor panhandlers--like the women with copiously manicured fingernails who had obviously borrowed the kids that were begging with them because the sympathy kids called their "mother" by her first name. But these four individuals, these four creatures of God... All four looked completely humiliated. Broken. They were clearly "new" homeless, or almost homeless. None were wearing the "rags" that used to characterize traditional panhandlers. Given that the area isn't close to a subway station, I was left to reach the conclusion that these people had to be local. Really, whether they were local or not isn't actually the point. It's immaterial. But my thoughts were racing.

In the middle of all this affluence and money--which was underscored by the women at the shopping center walking around in their designer clothes, the men networking and hobnobbing in three-piece suits while heartily laughing when one of the others said something stupid (but they had to laugh because that's what we men in business suits do, along with patting each other on the back for successfully conquering our small pieces of the world), and the numerous Jags and Lexuses and BMWs in the parking lot--I just felt so ashamed. That feeling of shame also was mixed with curiosity. Maybe they're faking? Maybe they're just ripping people off? And the fact that those questions entered my mind made me feel even more ashamed. Who am I--one who has been so blessed in large part by the fortunes of chance, by being lucky enough to meet the right people at the right time and to have experienced bad breaks at just the right time when there was at least one company out there who could benefit from my skills--to ask such questions?

The only one of those four who was within reach of me was the Black man. I was able to give him $10. Then the light turned green, and I had to pull into the shopping center. (Because angering the people in cars behind me by taking a moment to at least reach out to the young Asian woman who was standing several cars behind me was completely out of the question, right?)

As I was having my $5 mocha, I wondered why I hadn't gone back to the intersection to at least give a few dollars to the other three. I felt so guilty about that. I decided I would go back to the intersection when my coffee meeting was over. I would make things right.

But by that point, they were all gone. I had my window, my one window, and I didn't seize it. What were they going to eat that night? Where were they going to sleep? Did they even have a place to sleep? Where will they be 1 month from now? 6 months from now? One year from now? Or will they even be here at all? Where had they been in life?

And why is it that I was the lucky one?

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  1. ponchi101's Avatar
    Because someone had to be. Because not everybody can be broken.
    The point you made is necessary. I posted a while back, on one of our threads, that is a crucial difference between GOPS and DEMS: GOPS cannot believe that there is a factor of luck in this world, and the whole purpose of government is minimizing the vast differences in this luck.
    You are a hard working person. I would like to believe so am I. But I will never attribute it just to my hard work and that alone; I have been lucky, may times over.
    The point is that you understand it. You get it. Luck plays a part in this life.
    Lovely post, btw. Although lovely is not the proper word, perhaps.
  2. suliso's Avatar
    Sad story, but that's how a socially darwinistic world so many of your politicians advocate looks like.

    Many things in life happen because of a blind chance, but here is another philosophical question - where do we draw the line between chance and merit? For example, taking it to the extreme everything I've ever achieved is pure luck - lucky to be born in a loving family with both parents present, lucky to be born in a country where some chance for advancement does exist, lucky that my parents are well educated and expected the same from children, lucky that we were always financially well off, lucky that I was born smarter than average, lucky that I don't have any disabilities, lucky that I am capable of working hard when needed and so on...
  3. morct's Avatar
    I always think part of my duty as a parent is passing down the appreciation of how lucky my children are, to them. They are getting a great start in life, education, love, travel, music etc., but I really want them to know that not everyone else is as lucky. Part of that appreciation is letting them see that we help others when we can, and that we expect them to do the same especially as they get older.
  4. dryrunguy's Avatar
    Interesting sidebar, morct: I read the other day that Ireland is safest country in the world for women. Made me think of you.
  5. shtexas's Avatar
    I've always been haunted by a person who I didn't give money when he asked. I was just out of school and downtown at 5:00 PM. He was so desperate for $5 to get into a shelter that night that he had wet newspaper in his hand and he wiped down my car windows with it for the money. Problem was I only had 3 twenties and a quarter on me, there were no restaurants or banks right near where I parked, and the building I just came out of closed as I left. So, there was nowhere to make change (I thought twenty was too much to give). He and I were approximately the same age, same height, same weight, same hair color, everything...and I've always felt "but for...", our roles could have been reversed. I've always regretted not going ahead and giving him a twenty.
  6. Vlad's Avatar
    Very nice entry Dry.
    When I see the scene of poor people begging for money, my second thought (first one would be :"I really hope this is not a set up") is it going to be helpful if I give them some money? How do I know they won't spend it on booze? At that moment I sort of realize that how can I judge them on what they want to spend it on? If buying booze or even drugs would make them feel better, why not? I am sure I spend more on beer per month than they do on food, who the **** am I to judge them?

    On the other hand, I recently saw the scenes of Syrian massacre of children and my perception changes as far as what the priorities are. That few dollars who could be asking on the streets here in US could go to a family who has their home destroyed and their kid injured or killed. This is real tragedy and certainly they are left with far less options than someone on the streets of a relatively safe country like US, even if it looks really bad if you see them for the car window.

    I mention Syria only as an example... there are kids suffering all around the world with no hope whatsoever. Just because they live on different continent and are far removed from the news coverage, doesn't mean they don't need help..