On a recent beautiful fall Saturday afternoon I found myself driving in Edmonton. I was about the third vehicle back stopped at a red light at 137th Avenue and 97th Street heading east. There’s a teeny median separating those of us going straight and those turning north onto 97th Street.
Positioned on that small piece of concrete was a young man with a cardboard sign. Instinctively I made sure my doors were locked. Though I wasn’t aligned with him we were close enough that we could have made eye contact. I felt uncomfortable. For him. For me.
His handwritten sign said ?Down on my luck, need money for food.?
I tried to simply be an observer and not sit in judgment. This is what I observed during what seemed like an incredibly long red light. This was a very attractive nearly 30-year-old man. His dark hair was short and he was sporting the stubbly, unshaven face so popular now. He appeared buff and fit. He wore a dark T-shirt under a clean white/off-white button-down wool cardigan, jeans, and good black shoes. He could just as easily have appeared in a Gap commercial.
This stop was long enough for the driver of the first car and the young man to get into a verbal exchange. Body language would suggest they weren’t talking about the unseasonably warm and glorious day or what Harper might do about Afghanistan. At one point I lip-read the young man saying ?Mind your own business.?
I couldn’t see the driver or even the type of vehicle so I have no clue who was brave or angry or crazy enough to start an exchange. Safer (for all of us) to make the young man invisible.
I was glad I wasn’t the first vehicle. I was glad he wasn’t pushy like Toronto’s squeegee kids. I would have preferred he wasn’t there testing our generosity, compassion, and gullibility.
The cynical, hardened, redneck in me wondered why on earth, with thousands of jobs going unfilled, this young man was begging.
The more compassionate me wondered if there was some invisible barrier to employment, self-sufficiency, or pride that none of us could see. I hated that for those few minutes he made me think about things I would have preferred not to–homelessness, panhandling, con men, personal security, mental illness, the dangers of judging without the facts. I was grateful that neither I nor anyone I care about has to or chooses to live that way.
I hated to think I wasn’t helping someone truly in need, though surely there are better ways than passing cash through a car window. I hated to think he was a con man separating some unsuspecting, less savvy person from their money. I hated that he brought discomfort to a glorious Saturday afternoon. I could have done without all this, from where I sit.