Last night as I had dinner at an outside table of a small ‘Little Italy’ bistro in San Diego, a very frail small dark man stopped before me and spoke so softly I could not hear his words. He was ragged, obviously poor, and utterly subservient. If he was acting out fake poverty, he was doing a fine job. I was convinced he was truly in great need. I could see it in his eyes. The eyes tell all in such a situation.
I asked him if he wanted help. He nodded, Yes. I pulled out my billfold and gave him two one dollar bills. He nodded again, and shuffled off. As I finished my meal and a cup of coffee, a strong sense of sadness overtook my thoughts. A similarly strong sense of guilt joined in. Acknowledging the tiny percentage of the cost of my own meal I had donated to him, I felt a measure of self-centered cheapness.
With all our wealth, with all our hoopla about how great capitalism and democracy are, I thought how every major city of the US contains many homeless men, women, and children. Our politicians, obsessed with their competition for the middle class vote, rarely acknowledge the depth of the problem. Praising our economic system, we all regularly deny its existence. Or we blame the poor on their plight.
While our own backyards are awash with desperate people, we threaten to become expensively involved halfway around the world with our old Soviet adversary. That despite our own recent debacle in Iraq. Are we simply oblivious to our own failings? Or are we just too self centered to admit them? I don’t know the answer. I know I wish I had given the man a twenty dollar bill instead of the pittance I did. I’d have slept better had I done so.