I was sitting outside the closest Starbucks to work today (there are two… of course there are). I’d gotten hot chocolate and a croissant and was reading on my Kindle. I like to buy something when I use their wifi to download Kindle books. I’d gotten some .89 – 1.99 books; between them and the freebies it’s such a joy.
A young man — maybe 30ish — came up and said, “Excuse me, sister,” and began to explain that he was trying to get BART fare to Pittsburg, so he could go home to his mother. She said he could come home as long as he got on his psych meds.
Normally, I don’t give money to folks on the street. There are just too many of them, and some of them (young and intelligent-looking) make me irritated. However, I was reading Evelyn Underhill’s Practical Mysticism, and it seemed an unpleasant contrast to brush off this guy and go back to reading my religious book. My religious book on my Kindle. I had four ones and I gave them to him. He thanked me, said he’d talked to about twenty people and I was the first nice person, and asked how I liked my Kindle. He said, “I’m not a bum!” and indeed he seemed neat and clean.
He walked by a few minutes later and called out, “Hey, e-reader!” I looked up and smiled and he said, “If only more people were nice!” I said I’d looked to see if I had an old BART ticket, but I didn’t. I did give him another dollar in quarters; he had my four ones and an old card with not much on it. It’s about six bucks to get from San Francisco to Pittsburg. He told me he’d come to SF to kill himself and ended up in the psych ward, and that he was bipolar. He rattled off all the drugs they’d prescribed him.
I don’t know if his story was true, although I think that one probably would have had to have the experience to know all those drugs — none of them were the common Prozac or Xanax type. He didn’t seem like a street person but he did seem sort of embarrassed and uncomfortable and anxious — which is how I spend a lot of my time, even though I am a “respectable” member of society with a full-time fairly-well-paying job, an apartment, a car, cats and food and on and on.
So I parted with five bucks, and if he was lying, well, I make more than five times that in an hour — I am fortunate. I felt happy as he walked away, and I didn’t feel hypocritical going back to my book on mysticism. For even a nominal Christian, both “do unto others” and “as you did to the least of these, you have done to me,” should at least occasionally pass through one’s consciousness. I know I fail in that a lot — especially with people whom I know well, who drive me nuts, and who aren’t asking for money but for my attention — but at least today I didn’t. And if he was really a bipolar, suicidal guy who wanted to get to his mom’s, then I am triply happy, and I hope he’s there having dinner now.