WHAT COULD DRIVE A PERSON TO …? By Heather Ivery, Stewpot Community Services, Jackson, MS “I recently passed a man panhandling.”

Guest Article: 

This is one of my favorite little stories about what it might be like to walk in somebody else’s shoes. We are often quick to make assumptions and judge other people by the miniscule interaction or perception we have of them. The truth is, everyone has a story behind their lives. There are situations and circumstances, hardships and struggles, that we often know nothing about, that can help us understand better the reasons that some people live their lives very differently than we do. Usually – it all goes back to their story. 

Here is a short story about a panhandler I thought you might find interesting and thought provoking. 

I hope you enjoy … Pastor Bob

This is not necessarily an everyday thing in our city, but it’s not really a rare occurrence, either. The reason this man caught my attention was the location. He was at an extremely busy and rather dangerous intersection for pedestrians. He was not standing calmly beside the road with a sign hoping to receive some generosity from the cars that were unlucky enough to stop close to him. He was, in fact, working the crowd. 

When the light turned red he was walking up and down the rows of cars trying desperately to catch the eye of someone. His tactic seemed to be to guilt or shame them into giving him some money or hope they would be annoyed enough to give him something to just go away.

I was pretty far back in the line of cars impatiently waiting for the light to turn green. I must have seen the man walk up to 8 cars before the light changed with him in the middle of the road. He seemed oblivious to the light change even as cars began to move until horns started honking. 

His venture into the dangerous intersection yielded him no gain this time, but as I drove past I saw him take his place next to the road watching for the light to turn again.

What could drive a person to put themselves in harm’s way like that on the off chance that someone may give them a few dollars? I’ve had people tell me that panhandlers are just looking for easy money, or they are just trying to feed an addiction or they are too lazy to work a real job. People say these things from the comfort of their warm cars and comfortable houses, though. I don’t see what this man was doing as easy. 

What could cause a person to give up his dignity to beg at the windows of stranger’s cars as they try to avoid eye contact or pretend to be so involved in their music that they don’t even see him? What could cause a person to dart between traffic and risk serious injury or even death just for the possibility of help?

I don’t know the answer. I can only assume that it is an act of desperation. Maybe there is a family somewhere he is trying to support. Maybe the money he asks for is for food or an electric bill. Maybe he is so terribly addicted to something that he is willing to risk his life. Maybe at the end of a long day of begging he will get in a car parked across the street and drive away to someplace that won’t run him off when they see him sleeping in his car. 

What I do know is that this man was not doing something easy. He was standing outside in the cold, dodging cars, enduring rejection after rejection, trying to survive the only way he could, on the kindness of strangers.

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Isn’t that how we all get by … in our own little ways? Sometimes it feels like we’re all alone with our problems, dodging cars and feeling cold and desperate. And then … the kindness of a friend … or a stranger … comes forward to reach out and help us. And there is a little light in our world again. I guess we’re all like panhandlers in a way, we all need a little help from others to get through our day. 

Pastor Bob