No one would probably ever imagine that waiting in a fast food drive-through lane, could prove to be a life altering experience. But, during a mid-week hurried lunch break, I encountered a downtrodden man who aroused my sympathy and forever changed my approach to giving. Although I had a taste for burgers and fries, on that day, I was given something more substantial to digest.
While waiting to place a drive-through order, I noticed a shabbily dressed man (apparently homeless) standing in front of the restaurant’s electronic order taking system, attempting to talk to patrons as they approached in their automobiles. I watched with curiosity as he spoke to each person stopping to place their food order. As I continued to look at him, the despairing look on his face seemed to penetrate my soul. In a very short period of time, he had managed to capture my attention and stir my compassion, leading me to speculate regarding the dire circumstances which must have surely led him to such an open act of desperation.
AP Photo/Danny Johnston
The homeless man continued to stand there as my vehicle moved forward, approaching him with windows raised and doors locked. When I stopped, he gave me a hand signal indicating that he wanted me to roll my window down. Being very leery, and not knowing exactly what to expect, I hesitantly lowered my window, ever so slightly. He immediately began telling the story of how he, his wife and their children, had been passing through town, when their car literally “blew up”, leaving them stranded and without food or money.
He went on to explain that his family was hungry and sitting inside the restaurant waiting on him to provide for them. He then asked for money so that he could feed them, offering his watch (a very tattered and inexpensive one) in exchange. My immediate inclination was to help, simply because he asked and because I could see that some type of need existed. But then, wicked doubt and distrust began to interfere, and for a few moments, I questioned (in my mind) the truthfulness of his story. Suddenly, I realized that it really was not important whether or not his story was true. I had seen his plight in his eyes.
After deciding to give him my available cash, I searched my purse and discovered that I only had one relatively large bill, a portion of which was needed to pay for my lunch. Subsequently, I told him that I would pay for my lunch and drive around afterwards, to give him the remaining money. It took less than five minutes for me to pay for lunch, get the change, and drive back to where he was left standing. To my surprise, when I returned, he was gone. It was as if he had never been there.
At first, the encounter left me confused. But, as I went over the events in my mind, so many things became clearer. Many times individuals are hesitant to help those who are in need. Either because they do not believe that the person really needs help, or because they believe that they could possibly be victimized in some way. Through my experience, I learned not to hesitate to help. Usually when someone asks for assistance, it is because there is an immediate need.
If someone in need asks for help and you can give it, do not waste time considering “What if…?” You could miss an opportunity to extend a possible life saving hand. If by chance you were to err in judgment, and extend help to someone who misrepresents their need, it would be alright. Regardless of the outcome, you would have the comfort of knowing that you did what was right. Considering all things, it is certainly better to err on the side of humanity rather that inhumanity.