Old Bag Lady is a Recycling WitchbySuperHeroRalph©
This is a Earth Day contest story. Please vote.
An old, bag lady takes a liking to a man who has shown her kindness.
I'm the type of person who always reaches in my pocket to pass out spare change to homeless beggars. I don't think twice about it; I just do it. Not the best that I can do, it's the least that I can do. What is just loose change to me, may be life or death to them. Sensitive to their dilemma, I try and make the exchange as painless as possible. I can't imagine the horror, pain, and suffering of sleeping in a doorway or beneath a bridge can bring to someone who doesn't even have the warmth and comfort of a bed.
With many of these people having been physically and emotionally abused, even a homeless person doesn't like it if you make them feel bad about their situation. Scratch the surface and they'll erupt in a rage of anger and frustration with being alone without a home. Sometimes difficult to see the person beneath the rags and the dirt, it's sometimes hard to believe the curmudgeon standing before you has feelings, too. Nonetheless, hoping they'll use the money for food or a place to sleep, aside from the sometimes dangerous shelters they are forced to seek, maybe I'm naive in thinking that they won't use what little money they collect panhandling for something else, alcohol or drugs.
In all honesty, who could blame them if they did use what little money they collected to buy drugs and alcohol? After a while hopelessness overtakes their spirit and if a few dollars can bring them some peace and comfort for a few hours, I can understand why they'd want to have a liquid dinner, instead of being harassed in a Burger King, when just for once they wanted to have it their way. Nonetheless, feeling bad for their plight and how their lives have tragically turned out, there go I before God is what I think and the reason why I give my time by passing out meals at the shelter and donate my spare change, whenever I see someone in desperate need of help. Too many people pass by the homeless without giving them a thought, a second of their time, and so much as a dime. Thinking that could be me one day, homeless and on the street, just by a few unfortunate circumstances, I can't be that way.
"If I gave my money to homeless people, by the time I reached the end of the street, I'd be broke," is the reason I heard from a few people who don't give a dime or a second of their time for the homeless.
These are the same people who wouldn't part with a nickel, even if that was the only homeless person they came across. I've found in life that those who are stingy with their money and with their time are stingy with their affection and love. Give me someone who raves with the day and toasts to be broke, instead of someone who saves for tomorrow and hoards for the time when he or she will be all alone with his or her money.
"Why don't they just get a job?" I hear that a lot, too.
These are the same people who think that overweight people are lazy, all blondes are dumb, women are weak, and all minorities are no good. It's easier for them to put people in a box, categorize them, and close the lid on them rather than to deal with anyone who isn't just like them. If only they'd reach out, instead of turning their backs and closing their minds and their pocketbooks, maybe they'd truly help someone in real need and, if we all helped even just one person, we'd help to make the world a better place. Okay, this isn't the part where we all hold hands and sing "We Are The World." This is where we all do our part to eradicate hunger and homelessness. There's no excuse for it in America.
In the way so many people feel bad for a stray cat or dog by adopting a pet, those same people ignore the homeless. Tell me how someone can help an animal by adopting them and that same person not help a human. Is it easier to help an animal? Is it easier to give an animal a pat on the head and some food and water than it is to give a homeless person a kind word of encouragement and some spare change or a dollar? In that vein, I propose we adopt a homeless person.
"I read your Old Bag Lady Is A Recycling Witch story, Ralph, and I wanted you to know that I adopted this bum," said my friend George. "He sleeps in the doorway across from where I work and when I walk by him on my way to work and walk by him on my way home, I give him a dollar."
"That's very commendable of you, George."
"Only, the other day, when he thought no one was looking, I saw him duck around the corner and get in a new Cadillac."
"Well, that's certainly disparaging," I said feeling a bit chagrinned. "Yet, you can't discount all homeless people because one is a fake, a fraud, and a cheater."
"So, I'm just curious," said George. "Who did you adopt?"
"Oh, well, I, uhm," I said a bit reluctant to confess, knowing he wouldn't understand. "I adopted a lawyer and a physician."
"What? You can't adopt a lawyer and a physician. They're not homeless."
"Actually, George, they both are. In this bad economy, upside down in their mortgages, the bank foreclosed on their houses last week. I figure once I help them get back on their feet, I'll have free legal advice and medical care for the rest of my life."
"That's a great idea and you just inspired me who to adopt."
"Hey, George, where are you going?"
"I'm going to see if I can find a homeless stripper to adopt."
"Wow, good idea, George. Now, why didn't I think of that?"
Seriously, I wish I had thought of adopting a stripper. I'd only have to install a pole in my bedroom to make her feel at home. Once he helps her get back on her feet, or helps to keep her off her feet, if you know what I mean, he'll have free strip shows, and maybe more, for the rest of his life. If I put my mind to it, maybe I can find a future, lucky lottery winner.
"What are you going to do with your one hundred million dollar lottery jackpot?"
"Well, I'm going to share it with Ralph. He helped me when I was homeless and down on my luck, when no one else would."
Anyway, back to the story, someone who is homeless can't get a job, unless they have money enough for food and a place to shower, get a haircut, get dressed, and maybe buy some new clothes for the interview to get the job and to keep the job, once they get the job. Many of the homeless want to work; in truth, they've worked most of their lives. They want the opportunity to earn their own way and to take back control of their lives. We can't just cast a wide judgmental net over everyone who is homeless, especially in this sour economy and say that all homeless people are drunks and druggies, because it's not true. Moreover, because our state and municipal governments have turned their backs on helping these people with jobs, healthcare, and affordable housing in favor of budget cuts and appeasing the public for much needed votes for reelection, it's not always the fault of the homeless for being cast from society and abandoned on the streets.
"If I gave them money, they'd just spend it on booze or drugs."
I've heard so many people say that as an excuse to justify them being cheap and uncaring, by not giving so much as a lousy quarter to a homeless person begging on the street. Only the justification of that phrase doesn't work, when walking by a homeless mother holding a child's hand and asking no more of you than pocket change, as you hurry by her and scurry around her. Which one of them is the alcoholic and/or on drugs, the mother or the child?
Having met so many homeless men and women at the shelter, and children, for that matter, when there to pass out food, not all homeless people are drunks and druggies. Most every one of them have a unique story to tell, as to why they're sitting there eating a free meal, getting warm, and hoping for a bed for the night. Especially now with the way the economy has taken a nosedive and thrown so many people out of work and out of their homes, many of the new homeless are good people, people who have never been homeless before and who have worked all their lives, people who are just like you and me. They are people who have fallen upon hard times created by the top most wealthy, who savor their motives of greed by hoarding their wealth and not sharing it.
With too many politicians not giving a care about the average person, they more care about their wealthiest constituents, while lining their own pockets and feathering their own nests, especially when it's time for them to leave office. I've never known a politician that didn't leave office much richer than when he took the job as a public servant, an oxymoron, if ever there was one. Those people who pass by the homeless without giving a care are doing society a great injustice and themselves a disservice by not helping a fellow human being. Too often we are the last resort and the only chance for a homeless person to get what little money they need to survive and to have the hope that they'll make it through life for another day.
You need just to look in the mirror to see the face of the homeless person today. It could be you. Think about it, if with just a loss of a job and the reality of not finding another job, that could be you or any one of us, one day, homeless and on the street. Unfortunately, it takes most people to be homeless to understand the plight of the homeless, before they realize the smallest effort they do will sometimes help and motivate the most. Walk a mile in their shoes.
Volunteer one day at a shelter and you'll return from the experience enriched and a changed human being. For the first time, in an in your face confrontation, you'll be able to see the people behind the rags and the dirt. Just as there are some good, rich people, there are plenty more good homeless people. Just as there are many wealthy people passing out food to the homeless, there are just as many people at the shelter who used to be wealthy, after losing it all to bad financial decisions or dire personal circumstances in life that they were unable to cope with and overcome.
I met a man who lost everything in the stock market. Intelligent, educated, and articulate, he lost his mind, when he lost his money. Talk to him for a while and you'll see the man he once was has been devoured by lunacy. Disillusioned and disenfranchised, after he had no more money to pass out and when all his friends and relatives turned their backs on him, refused to help him, and wouldn't even listen to him, he walks the streets talking to himself.
I met a woman who's house burned down. A single Mom, she lost everything, what little she had. She had no insurance and one of her three children died in the fire and she suffered severe burns trying to rescue her baby. The hospital patched her up with emergency medical care, but sent her on her way, when she was unable to pay. Instead, they referred her to social services and the free medical clinic. Afraid they'd take her children away and put them in foster care, she was willing to brave the streets. Except for her memories, which were now soured by grief, she didn't even have photographs left to remember the life she once had.
I met another mother, who's love of her life, her teenage daughter, was killed by a drunk driver. She not only lost her daughter and her best friend that day, but she lost her job, her house, her mind, and her will to live. We can't just ignore the homeless. By ignoring the homeless, we ignore ourselves. Any one of these stories could be your story, one day. Now is your chance to change your reality by helping them to help themselves.
Keeping the faith and staying positive, when you literally don't even have any place to go to the bathroom, is not always an easy thing to do. Too busy buying lattes at Starbucks and lunch at McDonald's, before getting in our cars to go home to our houses, condos, and apartments, the average person is unable to feel the suffering of the poor, disenfranchised, and homeless. It's easier to ignore them and to walk by them without stopping and stooping to their level to drop a mere coin in their upheld cup. Shame on you. How can you be cruel, so unfeeling, and so uncaring?
Nonetheless, this story isn't about all the homeless people as a whole. Even though I just did, I didn't write this story to make a social statement about homelessness and about the plight of too many of the citizens in America today. This story is about one particular woman, an old bag lady that I befriended on Earth Day.
Her name was Gladys. As if drawn to her, as if meeting her was my destiny, I met her one day, when I was taking out my trash and she was going through my barrel.
"There's nothing in there," I said, not meaning to frighten her, but I did. Immediately, she backed away and started pushing her carriage to the next barrel. "I have some recyclables for deposit that I can give you," I said running back in the house to get the cans that I don't put out until the following week on recycling day. "Here," I said handing her the bag.
It wasn't much, maybe enough to get something to eat at McDonalds. If I had the foresight to bring my wallet outside with me, I would have given her a few dollars. Still, I'd rather see her take my cans than just have the recycle collector dump them in his truck. Too lazy to bring them back to the store to get our return deposits, here we all are faithfully collecting our bottles and cans and giving them away to recycling. Someone is getting rich off of us thinking we're somehow saving the planet by recycling our Coke, Pepsi, and beer cans and bottles. Give me a break.
Expecting her to say thank you, I guess, for giving her a bag of cans worth not much more than a dollar, she didn't say anything. She just smiled at me, nodded her head, accepted the bag, and walked away. Yet, she made an impression on me and I couldn't stop thinking about her.
All that day, having never seen her before and having never seen a homeless person in my neighborhood and on my street, until today, I couldn't help but wonder about her. I wondered how she became homeless. I wondered where she lived and how she lived. Surely, someone like her collects Social Security. Yet, if Social Security is the only income she has, where can she afford to live on that meager amount of money, when rent would take most, if not all, of her Social Security check? If she's homeless, how does she get her check? Does she have a PO Box?
Maybe she collects Food Stamps to subsidize her Social Security. I wondered if in collecting Social Security, if she was eligible to receive Food Stamps, too. I wondered about the welfare programs and if she was eligible for aid. I wondered if she had medical care? By the frightful state of her, I'd assume that she didn't have medical care or even a place to live, poor thing.
Maybe she had been collecting unemployment and exhausted her claim. Maybe she just fell through the cracks in the system, like so many of us have. Maybe she doesn't know about any of the programs that are available to her, that is, if there are any programs available to her. Maybe with all the recent budget cuts, they cut the programs that she needed not to be out on the street and homeless.
Maybe she's crazy and doesn't mind living on the street in the way that I'm horrified by the thought of being homeless, if I lost my job, my house, my car, and was unable to get another job. There's something wrong with this country, the greatest country in the world, when too many of our citizens have turned to begging pocket change and collecting bottles and cans to survive. There's something wrong with this country, when the only hope we have of living a comfortable life is to win the lottery.
After I saw her that first time, I noticed that she came around every week going through the trash looking for bottles and cans. Maybe she had been coming around for months and I just never noticed her. Some of my neighbors shooed her away, as if she was a stray cat or dog, instead of a homeless woman, a human being, and a person.
Being confronted by this one woman in my own neighborhood and in front of my house, I couldn't help but feel bad for her and her plight and be so outraged by her circumstance in a country that has widened the gap between the very rich and the very poor. I couldn't help but feel that I had been chosen to help her and turning my back on her would surely be tallied, when I stood before Saint Peter.
"He's the guy who ignored the homeless woman. He's not Heaven material, Saint Peter," said an angel holding a list of names and my name wasn't on it.
Not wanting to delay her, giving her every courtesy, so as not to embarrass her, I always made sure I had a bag of cans ready for her to take away with her.
"I'll leave the cans on my front porch," I said, "so that no one else will take them. You just come up and get them."
"Thank you," she said. "That's kind of you."
I turned to go back in the house and then stopped. I realized I was being rude. Anyone else, I would have introduced myself and at least asked her name.
"What's your name?"
"Gladys," she said.
"Please to meet you, Gladys," I said. Fearing germs and/or diseases, I was afraid to offer her my hand or to get too close to her, so I kept my distance. "I'm Ralph," I said with a wave and a smile.
She was layered with clothes, rags mostly, as if she was wearing everything she owned, probably to stay warm. I wondered if her clothes were her bed, too. I couldn't imagine sleeping in a doorway or even a shelter, a room filled with other homeless people. Even there, for fear someone will take them, she must watch and guard what little possessions she has.
The next week, I packed a lunch for her, a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, an apple, a banana, a few cookies, and a bottle of water, along with a ten dollar bill inside. It wasn't much, but it made me feel better doing it. I did that for several weeks. I figured instead of having my employer garnish my wages for my donation to the United Way, a faceless charitable organization top heavy with administrative salaries, expenses, and bonuses, why not cut out the middleman and give it directly to Gladys. No doubt, having fallen through the cracks, obviously, she was never on their charitable donation radar anyway. I figured the United Way never gave her a dime or a care, in the way that I gave her a bag lunch and a ten dollar bill each week.
Her face lit up, when she smiled and when she saw me walking out with her weekly lunch bag. I didn't know if she was happier to see me or to receive her lunch bag. I figured she was grateful for the food and for the money. Maybe that's all she had to eat that day.
She didn't talk much and I didn't want to push her to talk for fear of embarrassing her and scaring her away. I was curious to ask her the questions that I had, but I didn't. I didn't want to invade her privacy. I looked forward to seeing her once a week and giving her a bag of goodies. It made me feel as if I was doing my part and doing something to help the homeless by helping one person at a time. Unofficially, I guess I adopted Gladys.
Passing it on, maybe my one act of weekly kindness would motivate someone else to do the same. Maybe I was scoring points with the great point counter, point giver, and point taker-away in the sky. Maybe one day, her shoe would be on my foot and I won't be so proud to accept someone else's charity, if I gave of myself now that I could and should.
Then, after seeing her for weeks, Gladys stopped coming around. I still saved my bottles and cans figuring she was sick, until I had collected a big trash bag full of them that must have been worth close to twenty dollars. Only, her daughter, as young and as beautiful as Gladys was old and ugly stopped by my house.
"Hi," she said. "I'm Carol."