I worked today on Labor Day. It was a uncrowded commute, a park-anywhere, infrequent email-kind of day. And at the end of the work day, I was reminded of why I am glad that I am a laborer and have a paycheck
I pulled into the gas station and put the nozzle into the fuel tank. I was walking around to the other side of my car to gather my little car trash container to empty it when I heard someone ask me, “Ma’am, do you know where Camden Avenue is?”
I looked to the car parked beside me, and there was a man and a woman in the front seat and a small girl in the back seat. The man was shirtless and the little girl was very quiet and seemed sad.
“No,” I said, “I don’t know where that is.”
The man continued to describe to me that they were out of gas and had spent the night in their car last night. He had a job and was expecting to get a paycheck the next day, but didn’t have enough for a hotel room last night or today. He said that there was a church on Camden Avenue and the people at that church had said that they could provide him with some money if he could get to the church.
I dug around in my purse and found $5 (I never carry cash — it’s a bad habit of mine to be cash-less) and gave it to him. I mentioned another church just down the street that I felt would surely offer them some help.
He told me over and over again that he hated to ask for money, but he couldn’t bear to spend another night in his car, especially since his wife was also pregnant. He said that his pride was out the window at the moment.
I found the directions to Camden Avenue on my phone and wrote them down for him. The whole time that this is happening, I am looking at the sad little eyes of the small girl sitting in the back seat, thinking, “I am so blessed. I have food. I have shelter. I have more than I need. Thank You, God, for my blessings.”
He said that he was going to ask a few more people for money in order to put some gas in his car, because he was on empty and couldn’t drive any further. But he thanked me for the $5 and the instructions and I drove away.
A few seconds out of the parking lot, I realized, “DUH! I could use my debit card to put $10 or $15 of gas in his car!” So, I turned around to do that.
And met him just pulling out of the gas station…right after he had said that he didn’t have enough gas to go anywhere.
I think, maybe, just maybe, I got scammed.
So, the question is: Did they deserve my help?
No, probably not. But if we only helped people who deserved our help, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of helping go on, would there? I can think of numerous times in the past week alone where people helped me and I didn’t particularly deserve it, either because it was my job to do it in the first place or because I had a bad attitude about a specific issue.
And how do we measure someone’s “deserved-ness”? Is it due to the Rule of Reciprocity? i.e. if they help me, then I can help them? If that’s the case, then the first one that helps is taking a chance that the reciprocity is going to kick in at some unknown point in the future. And if it doesn’t, are there take backs?
Is it based on the moral character of the persons involved? “He is so nice that I should help him.” Again, what happens when he isn’t so nice, because at some point, he is going to have a bad day and show his ass. Or make a comment that I don’t like. Or not laugh at one of my (hilarious) jokes. No more help?
Do they have to earn it? I think the guy from today really sold me a story. He earned the $5 just with his story about sleeping in cars, a pregnant wife (she didn’t look pregnant, but she could have been), a paycheck to be delivered tomorrow, a car almost out of gas. It was a really good story and very well delivered.
But these examples rely on the actions of others and I would rather base my willingness to help, my willingness to give, on me, on my decisions, on my character.
It makes me think of God. He helps me, blesses me, saves me not because I deserve it or act in any way to earn it. Because I don’t. He does it because He is God and He chooses to. (I am not claiming to be like God, but I am trying to be more Christ-like.)
So, I’m not mad at myself or at Mr. Slept-in-the-Car-All-Night. He needed something and maybe the only way he could see to get it was to lie. And while I may have unknowingly participated in his potential lie (do you like my disclaimers in case the guy ever reads this blog and wants to sue?), I helped my fellow-man.
Happy Labor Day, y’all.