Street Journal

by Tanya Cromartie-Twaddle Eastside Sidewalk cafe Enjoying carefree conversation with a friend I see him in the glow of posh street lights… Approaching The panhandler asks for change Anything A quarter A dime Just trying to get a meal…Ma’am But We My Friend and I We We don’t have change Uhm…I can walk to the gas station on the corner and get change My friend offers Sincerely He meant it He would have Three crisp five dollar bills in my swank plaid pocket Me… Without my usual judge MEN tality ‘Cause see, most times I avoid THEIR eyes and just walk on by and ask my God to understand Though’ this time… under these lights (Why this time?) I look Him straight in the face Saw my father brother sister mother Myself Twenty or so awkward years ago Hungry in a southern project housing complex… My Momma a good and giving woman herself My Momma not too ashamed to ask a neighbor for a loaf of bread A canned good blessing A couple of dollars till payday…almost homeless so many times… I hand him a crisp $5 bill with a smile I feel good He is confused “You sure Ma’am? Whoa…” Of, course I’m sure. You get a good meal! “Thank you. Bless you, Ma’am.” He did not feel worthy. He thought he should give it back. He walked away stunned. My first time giving to a panhandler unconditionally. Without judgeMENt. Without fear. A few months ago I witnessed a woman give a beggar a twenty dollar bill in the parking lot of a local check cashing spot. It blew my mind. I tried to understand. What? Was she afraid? Does she feel guilty about something and is using this chance to show her God that she is a good person? What the hell is she thinking? She looks poor herself. I’m tripping out loud with the guy in the check cashing line. What if he’s going to get liquor or crack with that money? And I wonder how much he makes in a day with his hand out like that. Recall. Examine. The times I walk hurriedly past a beggar. The times I have said no because I just really didn’t have anything on me to give. The times I’m irritated because the beggar looks able-bodied and I’m working to keep my family fed and clothed. Why can’t he/she work like everybody else? Mental Illness…Alcoholism…Drug Addiction…Poor Money Management… Discrimination…Oppression…I wonder… I do not know what he is hungry for. I do know all hunger is pain… An AODA friend of mine said sometimes a beggar buying a drink with your do-good dollar may be trying to save his life. Indirectly. Alcohol withdrawal can kill. Sufferers need assistance. They don’t need my conviction and condemnation. To give or not to give…Each to his or her own… Forgive my ignorance. When I first stepped foot in downtown Chicago…wide-eyed fool I was. Shocked at the sight. Grown men sleeping on steps and benches. Asking clean, professional people for money. I was embarrassed. I took pictures like THEY were animals at the zoo. I wanted to study THEM and sent postcards home about THEM. I had never seen anything like it. The homeless weren’t so visible in my hometown. It can happen to anyone. I have witnessed the near homelessness of a friend of mine. Brilliant. Educated. Not an addict. Circumstances… unforeseen for whatever reason. It hit too close to home recently and I am grateful for the cold slap of reality. Now For realI see THEM as people, citizens, my family, myself. On this night I gave a whole five dollar bill to a beggar. I am not a do-gooder. Do not be a do-gooder. But do be a good and giving woman “Some people have to fall to lower levels to raise themselves higher…he might have to be a beggar for now…yin yang” says a friend of mine.
by Tanya Cromartie-Twaddle