It started one evening at O’Hare airport. I was standing on the median watching traffic go by as I was waiting for my ride home after a short business trip. A stranger coming up to talk to me jarred me from my usual lull I have returning from a trip. I was startled – this was Chicago. We don’t talk to strangers…
The guy gave me some sob story about missing his connection and needing bus money to get home to Madison, Wisconsin. Every bone in my Southside body was cringing to tell this guy to get lost. I was not in the mood for a scam. Then it occurred to me – give the guy $5 and he’ll go away. After relating this story to my wife later that evening, she gleefully told me what a sucker I was and how I shouldn’t open myself such to a scam. I looked at her and said “Probably, but what if it wasn’t – does $5 really break our bank??” That evening I had a change of heart. If $5 is not relevant to me and can help someone else, why wouldn’t I risk the scam? Let the bet ride on the longshot that someone really needed it was my thought.
I recalled this story while collecting for a Tootsie Roll drive for the Knights of Columbus. The Tootsie Roll drive is a great program to raise money for those with intellectual disabilities. (The medical diagnosis of ‘mental retardation” is no longer PC to say and sadly, people out raising money for these handicapped members of our society were even dealt with complaints from people for using the words on their promotional items.) This one morning I was at a busy intersection in my yellow KofC vest and greeted several people who stopped to donate. I even had a boss drive out of his way to donate at my intersection. Feeling good about the event, I then began to notice how several people refused to look my way out their car windows in case our eyes might meet; to a point where I started to become amused at the game. I noticed parking stickers from the location where I worked and then recognized people I knew in these cars that were refusing to look out their window at me. After a while, it finally occurred to me how many times I did the very same thing and showed the very same indifference. I didn’t like this feeling and promised myself not to be that “guy in the car” who won’t look at his neighbor anymore.
I later heard a suggestion from a “That Man is You!” program regarding keeping $5 on you or in the glove compartment of your car and give it to anyone who asks for it – from the guy on the off-ramp with a sign saying he was in need of a meal to a Shriner at the intersection or store entrance with a candy roll. This $5 is not so much for the need, but to open myself to the need. I knew when hearing this suggestion that this notion was speaking to me. I heard the call to better participate in this world and see my neighbor out my car window. Not only did I need to follow this guidance, but I wanted my kids, who were old enough to drive, to learn the importance of giving and to realize each day how fortunate we are in how giving away a random $5 does not affect my life but may be the only meal for the day for someone else. Yes, that $5 given to a stranger may not be used as I would hope. Yet, too often we use that as an excuse for being indifferent. That $5 is for my change of heart, not those of whom who receive it.
I now keep a couple $5 bills in each of my family cars and made my family promise not use the money on runs to Walgreens without replacing the cash. My goal is simply for my family and me to be more open to giving to those we come across. No questions asked. No judgments. Each time since I began this practice I smile in gratitude for not being the “guy in the car” who won’t even look out the window. More importantly, I say a prayer of thanksgiving for not having to suffer such indignity as to ask for a handout.
I was pretty proud of my little program until I realized that once again Dad set out a plan without full direction and disclosure. My oldest daughter took to heart using up my $5 allotments while away at college. All was good until out of the blue she called me up to excitedly tell me that she just gave away one of my $5 bills to a homeless person in downtown Indianapolis. “Great,” I replied. “Then I talked with him a while dad” she continued. Oops. “No!” I quickly replied. The notion of a young girl in the inner city talking to strangers and envisioning my wife beating me for putting her eldest child in potential danger surfaced immediately. “Just give the money, smile and keep walking!” I instructed. I failed to remind my girls to be generous, but not dangerous. Charitableness and loving a neighbor also brings awareness to life in a city in 2016. I was proud though – she got the lesson. (and I got mine!)
We have falsely put a mental fence between us and our neighbors. Our focus on Pokémon GO lets us see fictional characters while our indifference leads us to miss seeing each other in need. Technology and our indifference has replaced our seeing and being in touch with the world around us. We need to pause and reflect on how we can open our faith to the emotions of life; even to the point of tearing down our isolation and forcing ourselves to look out our car windows.
We do not need to see our neighbors in our everyday. Our everyday needs to open up to our neighbors. See them. Give out $5 because we love – not because we judge.