This morning I had to get up early and go give blood. Don't worry! I'm not dying! I was just fasting for my cholesterol test and all that yearly jazz. So with a fresh puncture in my arm I drove home dreaming of the breakfast I'd finally get to eat, sitting at my wobbly but loved, kitchen table with my enthusiastic pug at my feet.
It was on my way home that I saw him.
In my city (as with most cities), there is a noticable homeless population. These men and women stand at busy intersections and hold signs. They wait for you while the light is red and when it turns green, they turn the other way and show their signs to the cars lining up on the opposite side of the intersection.
At such a convergence today, I pulled over and gave a man $10. I felt good about it for half a second, and then I could hear a nagging inner voice (a voice that strangely resembled people I knew in real life who shall remain unnamed for obvious reasons).
Don't give them your money. They'll just drink it away! They'll just buy dope, get high and beat on their wife/husband/kids! You're on a budget yourself! You'll never pay off your loans if you keep giving all your money away.
I thought of the horrible moment when I once passed the same street corner on my way to work and saw someone leaning out their window--not to give money to the person holding a sign, but to yell at them to get a real job, while the man pleaded, rather shamefaced, that he had, in fact, tried to get a job. Yet here he was on the corner, with a sign, wearing secondhand clothes in one of the coldest months in Michigan.
I thought also of the times when I tried not to make eye contact with homeless people because of how bad it made me feel. How it would make me plead pathetically with myself to remember to start carrying cash in my wallet just so I wouldn't have to walk past them.
I look away because poverty is ugly and difficult to look at. I look away because poverty is scary. The fact that poverty exists reminds me that I could in fact be poor. That one day, I could in fact, have to beg others to fulfill my needs for me, or perform embarrassing or shameful acts in order to eat or be warm.
I realized somewhere in this serious internal critique of what I had just done and my own prejudice and fearful reactions that such thoughts are the very antithesis of generosity.
To be generous is to give freely without fear. It does not matter what the person does with what I have given him/her. That is their business. It is only my job to give it, recognizing that all that I have has been given to me.
If I give someone something, it isn't because I want something particular to happen (or not to happen). That is conditional generosity and not very generous at all.
I should give simply because I have so often been the recipient.
Before you say "No, Kory, I work hard for everything I have"...yes, yes--go sit with yourself for a while and ask yourself if you are really so self reliant.
Did you build the car that you drive?
Did you process the gasoline required to power it?
Did you build your house with your own hands?
Grow your own food?
Sew your own clothes?
Lay the pipes that pump water conveniently into your sink in your kitchen?
Develop the technology for all the devices you love and depend on each day? Build the computers or phones with your own handmade screwdrivers and so forth?
.... this list could be infinite, so I'll stop here. But ask yourself what can you actually do (from inception to completion) that doesn't require throwing money around to accomplish it or the use of goods made by another? Or a skill that you have that was entirely self-taught, and the knowledge not bestowed upon you by a generous teacher?
You may have money, but not skill. And you have money because of the opportunities you've been given--which were not necessarily given to everyone else.
If you cannot do all of these things, you are not self-sufficient, my friend. Recognize this. Recognize all that you have been given from someone else's labor. Recognize your privileges because they may have come at a cost to someone else.
I was in my car and the light was green, so I didn't have time to say anything more than. "You're welcome. Stay warm."
But if I could have frozen the moment, I would have liked to say so much more:
Please take this. Please take the other $45 in my wallet too and the $3 in change in the cupholder. Let me buy you lunch.
I was born to a poor woman who has an 8th grade education, who worked in factories most of her life, constantly losing her battle with addiction, now living on disability and so I'm sorry that I'm a little scared to look at you because seeing poverty in others makes me ashamed of my past as well as fearful for my future.
I recognize I am so blessed--thank you for reminding me of my white privilege, my education, my talent, my luck, my physical attractiveness, my job, and interests, my loving friends and serendipitous circumstances--I've received so much from the world. I can't even count all my blessings.
I'm so blessed that I can afford to whine about things like wobbly kitchen tables and crooked bookcases and dog hair covered couches and coats that need dry cleaned---so blessed that I can afford to be frightened by the idea of poverty instead of living with its reality--I have been given so much, every day, that this money is the least I can give you.
After all that I have been given, every day of my life please take this.
I owe you so much more.