This prompt, from Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge, reminds me of a story that my parents’ minister told at my dad’s funeral.
He recalled the time that he and my dad were outside of the church in Ensley, a community in Escambia County, Florida. A man came up asking for money, and Mark said he’d go inside and get something for the man. I don’t recall if he intended to get the man a small amount of money or food, but he said that, instead, my dad pulled $20 out of his wallet and gave it to him.
When the man had left, Mark said to my dad something like, “You know he’s just going to use that money for liquor or drugs, right?” and my dad replied something like, “That’s up to him, but I felt like I needed to offer him the help.”
I know I don’t remember the words exactly, but the message has stuck with me these 15 years.
Twice, I felt like I got bilked by someone asking for help, and I’ve always resented it. Once was back in the ’80s. A woman came to my parents’ house, where I still lived, and told me she worked at the day care down the street and her mother was sick and she needed to get to Mobile and could she borrow some money, and then could she get a ride. I gave her about $20 and gave her a ride to another neighborhood. I started getting suspicious by the time I got home, and I called the day care. They told me she didn’t work there; she’d come to them asking for money and telling them she lived in the green house – which was my house. I called and told the sheriff’s office, but of course, I was still a fairly new driver and she had directed me into an area where I hadn’t gone before, so I couldn’t even say where I dropped her off.
Another time, still years ago, but I should have been older and wiser, a woman came to my door and gave a very similar story. I told her I couldn’t give her money but that I’d give her a ride. She directed me to a store down the street, where a man got into the back seat. Then I got scared. I drove them to a nearby motel and they got out. I felt so stupid. And lucky. Anything could have happened to me.
People have helped me before. When my car got a flat in Orlando, a man stopped and put the spare on for me. I was with two or three girlfriends of mine, and we were standing on the side of the road holding the tire removal tool and looking at the time, and I know he could tell we had no idea what we were doing.
Another time, I was with my mom and the car conked out and a man stopped and helped us. My mom offered to pay him, but he refused it and just said to pass it on and help someone else in the future. Now, he’d say to pay it forward.
I think most of us probably have it in our hearts to help someone in trouble or need when we can, and whether that person is bamming us is on them, not on us. Unfortunately, though, that last experience of finding myself at the mercy of two strangers has left me feeling that I cannot help anyone, for fear of putting my life at risk.