I wonder what James would do with $100.

We first met when he started coming around before garbage pick-up to gather cans and bottles. We would chat occasionally and I knew he was living on the street and struggling with health problems. Eventually we started saving our recyclables for him and he’d ring the door once a week or so to pick them up. A couple of times he said he needed money to buy insulin and I’d give him $10 or $20. One spring he showed up on a bicycle, pulling a lawn mower and looking for work. We paid him to mow our lawn a few times, but felt awkward (and surprised) when we discovered that he was storing the lawnmower in our backyard.

One night after dark James came to the door asking for money. He’d been drinking and was not his usual pleasant self. I told him I didn’t have anything for him and he became demanding and belligerent. Feeling vulnerable and somewhat hurt, I told him not to ring the bell after dark again.

James seemed to kind of vanish soon after that incident. Other men with shopping carts took his place on garbage night, and then they were gone too. These days a worn-down middle-aged couple makes the rounds most weeks, their cart piled precariously by the time they make it to our place.

Lately I’ve started seeing James in the neighborhood again. He’s lost weight, and more than a few teeth, but he’s got a lady friend now and seems pretty cheerful most of the time. It’s been a few years since we’ve talked, and when I smile and say hello, I can’t tell if he recognizes me.

I saw the two of them twice today, once on my way to work and again on the way home. In between, I spent a day at the office and attended a luncheon showcasing the great work my employer does in the community. I went to the bank and picked up my first supply of c-notes.

Sometime over the course of the day James and his lady friend had swapped their shopping carts for a couple of bicycles. There was a young woman with them as they rode slowly down the sidewalk. I could see the three of them talking, but couldn’t tell if they were just getting to the crosswalk at the same time or if they were together. The talking became more animated and I imagined that James maybe looked angry. I found myself wanting to hear what was being said and lowered my window as they crossed the street. The young woman turned the corner by herself, while James and his lady rolled on. When they were partway down the block they turned to look back at her and the young woman gave a small wave. Then I heard her say, “Bye, Grandma!”.

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4 Responses to About James

  1. Carole Barkley says:

    It seems that often when one makes an extra effort with a homeless person, a sense of entitlement quickly develops. Ultimately, you end up putting yourself at risk for at least verbal abuse–and you enable that person to continue in a self-destructive life pattern. Giving the money to Project Join or Julia West or any agency that can offer real change and help when a homeless person is ready for it seems to make much more sense than just handing over money directly. If it were me doing this experiment, I would be much more inclined to give the $100 to a waitress or a street performer or a student standing in line to buy textbooks.

  2. Charlene says:

    This is one of the many reasons you are a SHERO!!!! Saw this quote and thought of you…
    “To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”

    Addressing homelessnes and the unfortunate, ills of our community requires us to address the ROOT CAUSE of the social ills. Keep hope alive!!!

  3. I have a story about a person who gave me a hundred dollar bill one day.
    I was at the grocery store, which I do every tuesday – I take my mother-in-law since she can not go by herself anymore. I walk her in the store and out, well I help her out in any way I can, especially since we moved her next to us. But on with the story. I got my groceries after making sure she had hers and got in the check out line. I was standing there waiting for my turn when a man walked up behind me only carrying a couple of things. I let him in front of me and when another line opened up and he had not been checked out yet, I smiled and told him to go for it. I got to the check out and was talking to the ladies when he walked up to me and told me ‘Thank you for being courteous’. I told him ‘I was glad I could help and it was no problem’. He had his hand on the counter and tapped the counter a few times thanking me again. And I just kept repeating the same thing to him, then he walked away. I looked back at the ladies and they were staring at my elbow, I looked down and there was a hundred dollar bill. I was bewildered…..I have helped many people over my fifty years on this earth and have been happy to do so. I just could not wrap my brain around the fact that a man I had never seen just gave me that kind of money, just for being nice. I tried to find him in the parking lot to tell him it was not necessary and to please take it back, but I could not find him. So, I prayed about it….I do not need much as we can buy the things we need, nor do I want much that we can not save up for. I did find a use for the money though, for there is always someone who needs things more than most. I constantly pray for the man who gave me the opportunity to help yet another person, and I hope he receives his reward in droves.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this story. It gives me even more to chew on. I’m glad you have what you need in your life and that you chose/ were able to pass this gift along to someone who could really use it. That man may have been impacted by your kindness in ways you can’t imagine, even though it seemed totally routine to you. Thanks again and I’m glad you’re following along! I hope to hear more from you.

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