Because it’s Good

Driving back from the print shop just now, I did something for the first time. I had ordered the required 4 copies of large scale floor plan drawings, and they’re needed on the job site today. It cost $48 for the bundle of papers. I didn’t bat at an eye at the cost since $48 is relatively cheap when most costs in our life at the moment are followed by several zeroes. I paid and pointed the car home. At the intersection was a scene that’s become increasingly ubiquitous these months and years since the recession began. In Austin, at least, the number of young homeless individuals rivals the number of Vietnam vets that we’re used to see standing on street corners. On the left side of my car stood a young man carrying a large sign. He held it in front of his chest and up high so that the top was resting just beneath his nose. Only his eyes were visible above the top of the cardboard. His eyes…

I’m not a side-of-the-road-money-giver. There are many reasons for this decision, one I made long ago. It has a little to do with my own professional background working in direct service at non-profit organizations, and a little to do with my public policy training and government work, and a little to do with my general knowledge of economics and this economy. My “giving” decisions are grounded in self-proclaimed “reason” and are a mixture of Friedman’s boot-straps theory and some confidence in means-tested, government programs. I don’t claim these reasons are effective or correct.

Today, I saw a man carrying a sign covered in carefully chosen words, beginning with the sentence, “I am humiliated to be standing here.” And those eyes pierced me, deep and black, beneath a furrowed brow. Without thinking I reached for my wallet which, on this rare occasion, contained a little cash. Pulled out a $5 bill. Rolled down the window. He sprinted over and grasped my hand. His face broke into an expression of absolute gratitude and anguish, and I mumbled “Good luck to you,” before driving off.

This blog is never meant as a platform for anything beyond sharing a personal journey from one distinct life into another. That’s it. I offer this anecdote today as nothing more than an observation that’s important to make. The news this morning reported 0% job growth numbers for the first time since the 1940’s, just two weeks after my employer threw me a lifeline – and offered a 6 month extension. Driving away from the print shop, carrying four rolled copies of plans for what will be an extraordinary home, I want to record this morning. Just a reminder. In this time of scarce resources: jobs, stability, and water – we have so much. We have so much.

Ordinarily I’d develop a quick and logical argument against extending a hand like that. It’s so counter to my fundamental belief in the “teach a man to fish” ideology. Maybe I did it more for me than him. Now I can pat my own back and write it down here. Maybe I did it because I honestly believed he’d use the money for food and not cigarettes. Maybe I did it because it could just as easily be me standing on the corner. Maybe I just did it because it’s good. And sometimes that’s the best reason.




  • No Name Farm/Ranch

    September 6, 20111:00 pm

    I hope your home was safe from the storm. We're surrounded by the wildfires right now, the worst of which are in a beautiful area just east of the property. Puts everything into perspective…

  • Joie

    September 2, 20114:22 pm

    Round of applause. My area – filled with friends, acquaintances, strangers – was hit hard by flooding from Irene early this week. A friend of mine is struggling with accepting what she views as charity; I can't imagine what that feels like, and that's why I'm helping where I can. Because, as you say, we have so much.