For years, I’ve watched them both survive the hot summers, cold winters, rain and snow and a lifestyle of extreme poverty. And for years, every time I see them, I’ve given them a few dollars. I have even been criticized for giving them anything by passerby’s, strangers and so-called well-to-do Christian friends. Their concerns are always the same: why are you giving your money away to these guys, they’re only going to buy booze with it and that’s not what they need? They need substance. And besides, booze is probably what put them in life’s predicament in the first place. Leave it to the ones who have everything in life to criticize my small contribution to someone who has nothing.
One day, while sitting at my favorite bench by the river, I had a stranger sit down next to me. He started to give me the lecture on charity. He said “you shouldn’t be giving these bums money. They’ll buy liquor with it and drinking is a sin.” He couldn’t tell me what kind of sin it was or which one of the categories in the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes having a drink qualified as a sin. Then, I reminded him of the Last Supper; which, in his mind, should have qualified Christ, Mary Magdalene and the Apostles as the biggest sinners of all time.
I know the two men don’t drink. They’re both in their fifties and on medication for some kind of mental illness. But even if they did drink and spent the money on booze — so what! If it makes them happy for only one or two hours a day — who cares. If it takes their mind off of their plot in life and their everyday misery and circumstance, who am I to judge them. They’re so far down the schematic of life, they would have to reach up to touch the bottom.
Mark Twain said, “The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer somebody else up.” He’s right. I know these two men are happy when they receive the few dollars I give to them. For a moment their face lights up with a big smile and I always get a warm thank you. And that makes me happy.
Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama wrote, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” Giving away a few dollars to the homeless is not hurting them, but in a small way, it helps others. And that should make all of us in the park of life happy.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist.