I don’t even know where to start in response to yesterday’s response to I Had an Hour to Kill, So I Watched Him. If you haven’t read it yet, go read it first and then come back or today’s post won’t mean as much.
The response to it was extremely varied, and there was a lot of harsh, hurtful, and negative comments that came in (among the many that weren’t). Hundreds of people unsubscribed. I was decried as a horrible human being, an uncaring individual, a boastful arrogant man, a greedy exploiter, a nose-rubber of my apparent riches, and even a bad dad. All because I admitted that I saw a man’s true need and left without giving him money.
Let me tell you the history of that blog post and how it came to be.
Last week I went out with my best friend Tobi to lunch. We got to talking about a project we are planning later this year in which we are going to the homeless district, handing out gift cards, and really doing anything we can to be friends to those who so often roam the cold streets alone.
You see, I love the homeless and so does Tobi. I love sitting and talking with the homeless. I love giving them my time, my service, and being a friend to the homeless, even if for a moment. Tobi does too. We’ve both sat with homeless people for hours listening to their stories and sharing our time with them. Our project was going to be awesome and we were planning it out together that day.
In the middle of that discussion, she was telling me about a news story she once saw about an investigative reporter that followed many of the Salt Lake City pan handlers home to nice homes and how so many of them are taking advantage of the generosity of Utahns. That got us to talking about pan handlers verses the truly homeless, and the difference between them. And that got me to telling her the story of the man I watched in the parking lot (the one I told you about in yesterday’s post). It was simply my example to her of the fact that not all pan handlers are scam artists. Some truly are in need.
“You should share that with your readers,” she said. “I think it’s a perspective they’d like to hear.”
I hummed and hawed and told her I wasn’t sure yet if I would. I didn’t tell her the whole truth. The truth that I had watched him and did nothing to help the man. A truth that I hadn’t thought a whole lot about until I told her the story.
In fact, while it was happening, I didn’t think a whole lot about it at all. I was preoccupied with emails and other things on my phone. Yes, I looked up at him often, sad that he obviously was in so much pain and had to move so slow. Unsure of what he was doing. I didn’t even know he was going to the corner to beg. And it wasn’t until I was waiting at the light, and could see so closely into his eyes, that I really understood just how much this man was in need. And it was then that I had a split second to make a decision as the light turned green, and I made the wrong one.
It haunted me a little, but I soon forgot it. Then as I told Tobi the story it haunted me more. Then I sat down to write it I and I became truly haunted as I examined it in so much more depth.
You see, I sat down and wrote it, even until I got to the very last line, with the intent of simply helping others understand that sometimes pan handlers and sign holders really do need real help wherever they can find it. I obviously did my job as a writer in that respect.
But my original intent was to do what I had been doing since it happened; what I so often do: rationalize to you all the way I had rationalized it to myself. I intended to tell you all why I didn’t give money, and how I regretted it, and discuss how as people we all sometimes do that, we can grow from that, and learn from that, and choose to give the next time…
But, I couldn’t.
And that’s the blessing and curse of writing. At least honest writing.
Sometimes you just can’t rationalize. Sometimes you just can’t lie.
I got to that last line of that essay, the one that says, “Because… I am not always a good person.”
I started with the word “Because…”
And I sat, and waited for the right words and the right rationalizations to follow. But they never did. The truth was hitting me. Hard.
I didn’t do it because…
I’m not always a good person.
That was the only correct answer.
I typed the words out and left them, as painful as they were because they were the truth. I didn’t do the right thing in that moment. And there was no rationalization needed. There could be no rationalization. Something deep inside of me told me to not write a single word more. To do so would be to damage the truth of it, and would damage any future action I might take to fix it. I mean, that is what rationalization is, isn’t it?
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