Few, more than I, realize the evil that men can act out. I’ve studied world history and know of man’s inhumanity toward one another throughout the past. Whether for land expansion, the need (or desire) for resource acquisition, the love of power, or base desire of greed there are usually clear cut motives. Especially when seen with 20/20 hindsight. I grew up in a poor city and saw bullies and desperate people firsthand. I stood in the oil terminal that I ran (directly across from Boston’s Logan Airport) and watched the television as planes were used to murder over three thousand men, women, and children. And as evil as they were, I knew they were religious zealots with a cause. I’m a fan of true crime books and know there are psychopaths and predators in this world that have done unspeakable things to others with no pangs of guilt at all. I understand there are those in the world who have little conscious and can rationalize any action. Yet I am constantly surprised when I see it up close and personal… people who look normal and probably have relatively normal lives yet are just two legged versions of the animals we put in cages.
Some people don’t deserve the title ‘human’.
Today, while driving my wife in to work, I was stopped at a red light in Sullivan Square on the edge of Charlestown. Whenever there, a man limps by hoping for change from the drivers stopped in traffic. Clean, well mannered, he walks with a cane and a limp and carries a ‘Please help if you can… Homeless Vet’ sign. I do not know him and have no reason to doubt the sign other than my own cynicism. I rarely give money and don’t believe I ever have to this man, despite seeing him walk by each time I come through the area on the way to my wife’s office. Despite his being there on the coldest days and in the rain or snow, I have become a little immune to all the men and women I pass when traveling that are looking for ‘handouts’ and help. Sure enough, he was there this morning. Just after he walked past my car, we heard a woman’s voice screaming epithets, cursing and swearing in a vicious rage. I looked over just as th light changed and cars started to move and there was the man, limping away from a silver car that had both windows open. A woman, rough looking and probably younger than she appeared, was berating the guy. “You f—ing disgust me! Asking for money from people! F—ing disgusting low life! Get a job you piece of s–t!… ” On it went while the cars all moved forward and they drove off, her male companion shouting things out his window as well that I could not hear. My wife and I were disgusted by what we just saw… as bad as it would have been if they were laughing, thinking it was funny to pick on a defenseless man, these two losers were screaming viciously. They looked like they could / would kill the guy… And why? Because he had a sign asking for change? They had clearly lost it and were doing their best to make this guy, obviously in need of help, feel as low as possible.
I wondered, did it make them feel better about their own miserable lives? Did they think they could berate him into a realization he should / could make a change, get a job, become a taxpayer? Did they feel tough by screaming at a handicapped homeless person, vet or not? How little did they have in their own lives to make them such soulless people? What other miseries are they spreading to those who unfortunately have to live near them? And then I thought of the homeless man. Maybe he isn’t even homeless. Maybe he lives in a shelter, or even has an apartment but no job and is forced to beg to pay bills. Maybe he will spend what he gets to buy food, or maybe he’ll spend it to feed a substance abuse habit. Who knows and I don’t walk in his shoes, nor did I walk in them as he became who is is. A friend once asked why I gave a homeless man a few bucks once, “You know he’s just going to buy booze with it later, right?” “So was I,” I replied, “and he needs it more.” No matter. I can’t ‘fix’ him or straighten out what is wrong. But what would the rest of his day be like having met those two? What would be going through his mind each time he walked up the line of cars? Each time a window rolled down and he had no clue whether it would be a compassionate hand offering some change or a hate filled piece of trash trying to make themselves feel better by kicking a guy already down on his luck?
I dropped my wife off and drove back. I parked and walked over to him as he looked at me with suspicion and offered him the five bucks I had in my pocket. I apologized for the whole human race and told him, frankly, I didn’t know what his situation was or how he got where he was but that NO ONE deserved to be spoken to that way and I was sorry anyone had done that to him. He looked a tad confused as I don’t think he understood why I would come back 10 minutes after it had happened but was clearly appreciative. The five spot and my apology for them won’t change anything. He’ll still wonder what will happen each time a window rolls down and still will wake up tomorrow with no job and a need to get money to buy food. Selfishly, it probably actually did more for me than him, and I know that. I doubt I’ll start giving him money each time I pass but I’ll never look at him, or other homeless men and women, the same again.
I’m not writing this because I think you all should give. There are serious arguments that it enables and may make things worse. I’ll have to continue deciding on a case by case basis what I’ll do each time I see someone asking for change. But pass on by or stop and make a donation, there is never a reason to make anyone not harming you feel worse. It is never okay to take your own day out on another person just because you can. He may have issues that will prevent him from having a ‘normal’ life, be they real, imagined, physical, or emotional. But I wish him well and as bad as I feel for him, I feel worse for the family and neighbors of the two animals that drove through Sullivan Square this morning.