I say that I care for the poor, oppressed, downtrodden, the homeless, the helpless, the hungry, the hurting and so on. I say that I care and I say that it’s important to care. But do I? Really?
Does it really mean anything to say that I believe something but don’t really act on it? Is a financial donation to a charitable organization a legitimate way to care for those who need care, or is it simply a way of shielding myself from that harsh reality and still feeling good about myself?
This is the scene on the block where I work: prostitutes selling their bodies on our corner; drunks staggering down the street; people shooting up on our back step. People high and drunk come up to me on a regular basis to ask me if I can “help them out”. Sometimes I just assume that they are drunkards or drug-users, because of how they look, because of their demeanor. That’s probably the worst thing of all.
“Can I help you out? In what way? You need a dollar? For what? A coffee?” There isn’t a coffee shop within 6 blocks of here, but there is a liquor store across the street. “A new timing belt?” I’ve heard that one before, several times.
“I don’t have any cash on me right now.” It’s true.
“No, I can’t help you today.” Well, I could, but I assume it would be squandered on unhelpful intoxicants. Is that my decision to make?
“I’m in a hurry. I don’t have time to talk right now. Yes, I work here. In what way do you need help?…” This guy just wants to talk. I am in a hurry—Madeline needs to be picked up from pre-school—but why can’t I take a just moment? I’ve seen him before, I recognize him, but I don’t know his name. Couldn’t I at least ask for his name?
I’ve just shaken his hand. Why do I feel the urge to wash my hands after I’ve done this? Are his hands dirtier than the farmer’s or the nose-picking movie-star’s? Are they dirtier than the hands of the corporate executive who doesn’t wash after taking a shit? I would shake all of their hands without a second thought. Why do I feel the need to wash my hands now, after shaking his?
I don’t cross the street to avoid them, like the priest and the Levite did. I don’t literally do that, but my body language says that I would like to.