Monday, April 23, 2007

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

But does it matter?

There is a woman who occasionally stands on the corner of the big busy intersection near my house. The light is long, and she stands on the sidewalk with a sign that says "Will Work For Food." I've seen her several times; she has straight black hair and dark skin, and from the car looks to be in her late twenties. Whenever a hand reaches out of a car, she makes the sign of the cross twice, old-school style, kissing her hand at the end.

I very very rarely give money to panhandlers. I don't want my money to go toward a 40, or a bottle of MD20/20 or a rock, and I can't give cash and not feel attached to where it's going. The food bank director pointed out that sometimes that people sometimes need to self-medicate to get through the day (or the night), to keep the demons, or even just the cold or discomfort, at bay. I'm still thinking about that, and in the meantime feel much more comfortable giving some kind of consumable.

I realized that I had an extra loaf of bread and a ball of store-brand mozzarella cheese in the freezer and when I got home I tossed them in a plastic sack to take out to her. She looks young, maybe she has some children. I added a can of tuna, one of soup, and a handful of Hershey's kisses. I looked up the words for "frozen" and "can opener" in my Spanish/English dictionary and headed out.

When I returned to the corner, I saw that she was standing with a man who was sitting on a low wall behind a landscaping bush. She appeared to be much older than I thought, even accounting for how much more quickly street living ages people. When I said, "I have some food for you" she responded in English. I explained that some of the food was frozen and asked if they had a can opener. In our two-minute conversation she told me that she and her companion had lost their jobs and were living in a tent, and which churches' soup kitchens they go to. She offered to do some yard work, or wash my car, and apologized several times for smoking.

Afterwards I was thinking how she had not turned out to be at all what I had thought, except female. I found myself thinking that if I had known she wasn't what I had thought, would I have still given her the cheese and the bread?

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