Thursday, March 21, 2013

Crossing The Street

I was walking across a busy intersection that has a particularly long delay on the traffic light, so it often attracts panhandlers. The light changed just as I got to the corner, but that was ok, because it was a nice day (this was a few months ago) and I was in no hurry.
There was a homeless man at the same corner, a few feet away, walking up along the cars. He had a trashbag of stuff resting on the lamppost. When he reached the end of the line of cars, he started walking back. His sign said, "Homeless / Any Help Will Help / God Bless You".
As he walked back to the intersection, he looked at me without expression. An upwelling of irrational guilt began to develop just below my throat. I had money, but I didn't particularly feel like giving it to him.
When he reached the intersection, he stopped a few feet away from me, turned back towards the cars and stood holding his sign. He didn't say anything. He didn't ask if I could "spare any change". He didn't wave his sign suggestively at me. He didn't give any sort of looks. He just stood, back to the afternoon sun, sign facing the line of cars waiting for the light to change.
When the light changed I walked across, the little bit of spreading relief spawning additional guilt. And the thought struck me that this man wasn't so much a beggar as he was a sign holder. Perhaps that is more dignified. Perhaps it is not.

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