As a busker — aka street performer — I have lots of spare change. Especially after a street performance, when beggars are most likely to ask me to put it in their jingling cups of coins. Usually I reach into my pocket, pull out a few quarters, and drop them in their cups. I don't feel bad for not emptying the entire contents of my pockets, because I know from experience how a dollar here and a dollar there add up to daily bread, and I'm glad to help if I can. It's good to give.
For the most part, I disregard what I was taught as a kid not to give money to beggars because you don't know what they will do with it. Who am I to assume things about them, like what circumstances brought them to seeking alms, and how they will spend the money thereafter? I think that most people will choose to feed themselves before they indulge themselves, so unless I have a good reason to believe that the money I give will be misused, I'll give. Plus, giving money to someone who needs it more than I do makes me feel good, so most of the time, I'm gonna do it.
So, last weekend, while standing with some friends in a line that wrapped around the block for a concert at the Showbox in Seattle by the public market, a man walked up to me.
"Are you happy?" He asked, smiling. He didn't wait for my answer. He continued, "You know, I saw you here looking happy, and it made me happy to see that you're happy."
I smiled at him. "Well, I'm glad to hear that." He smiled back. He had pretty big bags under his eyes, and they were bloodshot and yellow. He spoke clearly and appeared to be sober, but was obviously not healthy.
"I'm 72 years old, I have prostate cancer, and I'm payin' someone fifty cents an hour to watch my cat. I'm sorry to be telling you a sad story, and I'm not asking for money, but is there any chance you could buy me some cat food and some milk? That's all I need."
He held eye contact with me while he spoke, and I listened. I didn't say anything about being sorry to hear about his situation, or act bothered by his request. I just listened, and looked him in the eye. And I smiled a little, because he said said he liked that.
"What does the cat food cost?" I asked.
"Three-sixty," he replied, "and about a dollah for the milk."
I had just finished a busking session, during which I collected about $140 worth of tips in my case in just under two hours. I fished out a five from my back pocket, and gave it to him.
He thanked me. Then he hugged me, and walked spryly around the corner without looking back. I don't know what happened with my money, but I felt good about giving it away. I made a judgment call in the moment — I thought that this man was really about to buy milk and cat food, and that my money would improve his health to some degree. So I gave him what he asked for. Why not?
I did not, however, give to the man with the 24-ounce can of Busch hiding in his jacket lapel, who was holding a sign asking for weed money. Nor did I give to the woman with open wounds on her face who explained to me that they were "just from falling down the stairs after drinking a fifth." I had good reasons to believe that my money in their hands would likely be detrimental to their health.
What do you think about giving away five dollars? one dollar? spare change? Who would you give to, and why wouldn't you give to someone else?
Click the comment button below, and tell me what you think.