Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Homeless Lady Teaches Me A Lesson

I recently met a homeless lady and the interaction has not left me.

I drove into Manhattan this past weekend with my family. My daughter turns five this week and we wanted to take her to the American Girl store, a three-floor store dedicated to dolls that girls can acquire and make them look just like themselves. Playground eugenics? A new level of narcissism? That is a blog post for another day!

We parked a few blocks away from the store. The totem pole of street parking signs had to be decoded, first by my wife, and then me. It was a Sunday and it looked like we were safe to park, though you can never be too sure. At the base of the sign pole was a homeless woman. She was on the cold concrete sidewalk with her worldly possessions folded into three or four garbage bags. I tossed a dollar her way.

You would think I threw acid at her. She screamed loudly and demanded I remove that ‘filth’ from her. She was so irate that she mustered the energy to get up and walk 10 feet to my car. She put the dollar bill on my windshield and tucked it under a wiper. She told me she didn’t want it, admonishing me that her culture was better than mine. Somehow, I offended her with my offer to help someone who appeared desperately in need of things that money alone likely could not cure.

I am not sure what culture she thinks I am part of or why it would be worse or different than hers. It left me baffled and frightened but I learned a lesson not to assume I know what others need or want.

The strange thing is I’ve given to panhandlers many times in my life and there have been a few others who murmured their protest of being the recipient of a handout. Who can understand the logic – too proud to take money but not ashamed to be on the streets where everyone stares at you?

Sure I could say she is mentally ill or that she is not thinking straight but I cannot just dismiss her as such. I don’t know what led her to this circumstance nor of what would make her happy at this point.

It is probably better to donate to a reputable organization that can help people in the way they need to be helped – for those who want the help. Still, I can hear the echo of her protest. Maybe she knows something about life that I don’t. What if her view of the world gives her a lifestyle that she is content with? I would think that she needs help – heck, we all need some kind of help – but for today I just have to respect her wishes and even acknowledge that she owns one thing that cannot be taken away – her ability to live life on her terms, by her choices.

Free will. It may lead to her death or a disturbed existence, but if she is exercising her right to live this way, who am I to change that? It is hard to resist the urge to interfere and play the heroic liberal but free will, provided it doesn’t hurt others, is one value I cherish beyond many others.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2013 ©

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