I stayed home from work today because I'm sick. Since I had the free time and the desire to infect more of humanity with my disease I went to Radioshack. And Walmart. Two of them. Each.
Well, first I went to walmart to buy some mucinex...you know, for the sickness. Just sore throat/stuffed face/dry cough/plague of death regular sickness. While I was there, I went to pick up some DTV converter boxes since we don't have cable anymore and the coupons expire in 2 days.
NO LONGER CARRIES THEM
Fine, nuts to you walmart, i'll go to the radioshack in your "Parking lot strip mall."
Went home with my mucinex, called another Radioshack in town to see if they had any. Sure enough, they still have some! So I went and drove across town to another Radioshack which was in yet another Walmart "Parking lot strip mall." I saw Becky and her daughter Courtney walking into walmart. Courtney is now significantly taller. This made me chuckle.
Since I was already at walmart, and radioshack was bound to be more expensive, I thought i'd go in and see if they had any first.
Radioshack it is. Converter boxes purchased, yay!
Now, as the kids say, let us get down to brass tacks. I hate going to walmart. Why? Because there are people with cardboard signs in the parking lots that say "homeless" or "hungry" on them. And they are everywhere.
Don't tell me i'm a terrible person, you enjoy seeing other people in a state of despair and hopelessness? Didn't think so.
Why don't I like it? Because I feel convicted to do something. And more so I feel incredibly angry at myself when I try rationalize why I don't stop. Because I don't stop.
Why I try to look straight ahead, and see everyone else doing it too, to avoid "seeing" the person in need of help on the side of the road. Or in the parking lot.
Why, even though i'm not going to be able to get them back on their feet alone, do I not even give a dollar? Or a few dollars to give them some money to get something to eat?
And even if I had no money at all to give (which is a lie, we always have money to give) would I not even take a few moments to talk to them? To show a bit of decency. To express some compassion even if in word alone? Being treated like a person is a big deal to someone who spends all day watching people pretend they can't see them.
I try to tell myself that I don't have time to do this. That i'm in a hurry. That I don't have three minutes to pull over.
To further absurdify (yeah, that's right!) the situation, the thought starts coming in that if I stopped and gave money or talked to this one person, then I'd have to do it for everyone that I saw who needed help. The same way your elementary teacher would shame you into not eating candy in class.
Because if you don't have enough to share with everyone, you shouldn't share with anyone.
So, why do I do this? Because I AM terrible. I am a miserable and pathetic wretch on my own. And I feel superior. Maybe not by any sort of intrinsic trait, but by my not being in the same position. I tell myself that I've made good choices to not end up on the side of the road with a sign. And by doing so I immediately mentally judge the person who IS in that position as having "deserved" it.
What would happen if I took the time out to talk to someone on the walmart parking lot?
Would it destroy me? Would my wife leave me and child hate me because I was home 5 minutes later? Would my milk spoil because of the additional few hundred seconds in the car? Would my budget be devastated after now spending $100+ on groceries, I tack on an additional percent or two?
I believe that big acts of compassion start from small acts of compassion. I wouldn't be helping this person turn their life around immediately -- and who's to say we shouldn't strive to do that too -- but I might be able to give them money for a drink. Or a sammich. Or maybe my interaction would make them feel more like a person. Like someone that has worth. Instead of someone who people pretend to not be able to see.
I happen to believe a little bit of compassion shown to someone who needs it is better than none at all.