Monday, March 19, 2007

Compassion of the Easy Kind

Today my homeless friend Mr. Shirthead Man (whose nickname gives you a clue about his headgear of choice) stopped me on my way out of the BART tunnel. He told me somebody had stolen his shoes while he was sleeping on the street. He asked me for money. He never asks unless he really needs it -- he knows I'll give him money when I have some to spare. He sells this paper for money and he's one of the hardest working homeless guys I know. He was in his stocking feet. After a brief conversation about the lack of respect shown by young people nowadays, and some reminiscing about kinder, gentler times on the San Francisco streets, I gave him some money and wished him well.

Halfway to my office, it dawned on me I could have asked him his size, walked a few blocks to Goodwill and bought him a new pair of shoes. This is what I would have done for any other friend in such dire need. What, I wondered, stopped me from thinking of this while I was talking to Mr. Shirthead Man? I imagined him walking to Goodwill in his socks.

Do I just go around dispensing compassion in amounts I think are appropriate, like some kind of goody-goody demi-god? Waiting for the gratitude? Am I afraid that giving too much away will leave me without enough for somebody else later? Am I fearful of being taken advantage of? Or do I really do what needs doing? I wish I had acted better. I hope I have another chance.

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