Every day for several years now Steve has been sitting outside my office panhandling. He's there by about 1 each afternoon. When he first appeared, I did as I often do when I see folks asking for money, and walked right by. It's always a hard moment for me. Knowing that I will say no, and not ever having crafted the right message for that, I use the marginally honest one: “Sorry, I don’t carry cash.” That’s the truth of course, but the whole truth is that I’d be unlikely to give even if I had it. While there are exceptions to this rule, I generally like to give to the organizations that help people, rather than to the people themselves.
This is why panhandlers present a values conflict for me. I am a person who loves to connect to people, and I haven’t found a good way to do that when I choose to say no especially after being chastised after declining a few times lately.
Except with Steve. After Steve had been out front for a few days, I said hi to him. Next day I asked his name and the next day he initiated a conversation, asked me how I was. We’ve evolved now—he brightens my day with a joke, or teases me about some benign matter which always gets me laughing. So many times I am dashing out of the office in my too-busy state, head down, immersed in my phone. He’ll holler “Dropped something,” causing me to stop, look behind me and realize it’s just another Steve tease. He reminds me I need to put my phone down and pay attention to the people in life, rather than my to-do list.
I’ve never given him a dime. I’ve only given him my time. A listening ear. Maybe a sense of belonging. I certainly hope I've given him that.
Today though, Steve really got me. He called me over as I walked back in from lunch, and gifted me with 3 pieces of candy-- left over from Halloween. His message of joy and abundance to the world. Straight from the heart of a homeless guy who teaches me how to build human connection.
I would have missed this teacher with my fears of saying no and my assumption that the only thing I might offer was what he asks for on his sign. Thanks for your lessons Steve, and for tugging me gently into a relationship that matters to me.