So, I've been silent for a while because I'm struggling and struggling hard to keep my blog as far away from judgmental as possible...except for judging myself. And lately I feel like I've sunk into a judgmental low ~ judging others.
The other day ~ it was the day after the first presidential debate to be exact ~ I got angry. I was driving through my little end of town when I really started noticing how many homeless/panhandlers I was passing. I notice each and everyone of them every time I see them but this was the first time I noticed how many there are. My anger is not directed at the panhandlers. My anger is directed at the fact that I don't see how the economy could possibly be improving when the number of panhandlers in our area seems to have skyrocketed.
When we first moved to Richmond six and a half years ago, there was one guy. The same guy stood on the same corner nearly every day. He wore the same clothes every day I saw him. He wore a worn out khaki jacket with jeans and what looked like some type of safari hat. His hair was long and gray with a huge, long, gray beard. He didn't look like some spaced out junkie. He just looked like a guy who was down on his luck and he looked sad and lonely. Some days I would pass him a couple of bucks and some days I would grimace to myself because I had nothing to give him. He was polite and always said "God bless" when I'd hand him some money. He always gave me a smile, even when I had nothing to give him. Him. He was that one homeless panhandler who worked the street in front of McDonald's and Target.
As an aside to this story, I always wondered what he did with the money he collected from passing motorists, so one day I followed him...yep, you read that right, I followed him as he left his corner. I watched him as he walked into to Target and the cynical side of me popped up saying "I bet he's going to the wine and beer aisles." I skulked around target looking down nearly every aisle, hoping to spot him. I don't know what I would have done had I found him but I kept looking. I was just desperately curious to see what he did with the money. Finally, I spotted him as he was at the checkout counter. He was buying a box of depends underwear.
He has long since disappeared but so many others have taken his place. There are now too many to count. It was in the transitional time period between the one guy working his corner and emergence of the throngs of homeless panhandlers sitting in the medians at stop lights that I started hearing the stories of the scam artists. You know the ones I'm talking about...the preacher who ran out of money as he was going around the country as an Evangelical minister and he just needed a couple of bucks to put in his gas tank so he could get to his next stop. Or the one with the college students who ran out of money on their way back to school and could they get a few dollars so they could get back to school. Or the one of the young couple who were on their honeymoon and ran out of money so could they please have a couple of bucks to put some gas in their car. Stan was a magnet for these folks. They flocked to him like bees to honey and I was the one who inadvertantly put a stop to his "falling victim" to their schemes. Stan used to give money to these folks until I told him they were probably scam artists...goodness knows being snowed by a scam artist is not what any of us want. It was right after all of these scam artists appeared, with all of their wild-cockamamie stories, that the streets in my little pocket of Richmond became flooded with panhandlers.
And it was then that I became a bit desensitized, detached and maybe just a bit judgmental...always wondering if they, the panhandlers, weren't just another form of master scam artist. I still gave money, sometimes grudgingly, when I could and I still looked at everyone of the people sitting on the corners but part of me wondered and got a little irritated thinking they could just be taking me for a ride.
I mentioned above that it was the day after the first presidential debate that I got mad. As I said above, jobs numbers were in and supposedly the economy is improving. It was as I was leaving Costco that I really noticed the massive uptick in the numbers of panhandlers. For the first time since we've lived in Richmond, I was approached on foot by someone needing money. Things like that don't happen in my little suburban bubble...things like that happen in the city but not here ~ at least not until now. So I guess someone needs to tell masses of the panhandlers in our area that the economy is on the upswing and jobs numbers are improving...now they can get a job and quit their begging...said with a huge amount of sarcasm in my tone. And someone definitely needs to tell to the young couple and their baby, who approached me in the Costco parking lot asking for a few dollars because they needed to feed their little one, that the economy is getting better. They hadn't eaten in two days, they said. They used all of their food to feed their baby. It was then that my heart softened and I realized it's never up to me to judge whether or not someone is really needy or is a master scam artist. Judgement day will come for all of us someday and I need to only worry about how I've treated others, it's not my job to judge. My job, I decided is to see every person with compassionate eyes, to treat others as I would want to be treated if I had nothing, to get a little angry on behalf of those who have no voice and help them when I can.
I'm not trying to make this a political piece. My political views are uniquely my own. I've voted on both sides of the aisle and I don't care if you are a democrat or a republican, black or white, male or female...what I do care about is how many people are out there and are hurt because sometimes I've turned a blind eye or decided to judge when I have no right to...so for me, for today and hopefully all of my tomorrows I can pass along to my kids that judgement day is not my area and politics are not my thing but being compassionate is.
Oh, for the love of my children....