Friday, October 25, 2013

Have's and the Have-Not's

A friend of mine has been trying to figure out ways to assist her pre-teen children as they have started to express a certain degree of hopelessness over the last several months. Her eldest child has shared that he feels as though he isn't old enough to make a difference in the world, he has no money that is his to give, and nothing seems to matter anyway. After attempting to find some places the kids could volunteer to show them that helping others doesn't always have to be about money, she came up with an idea through a local youth worker to make TAG (take and give) bags to give to those in need, specifically, the homeless population that is ever-present in our community and surrounding areas (and truly, all over the world).
*Image here
The bags are small and consist of food and/or personal items such as crackers, tuna in a can, fruit cups, granola bars, bars of soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, and so on. Not every bag has the same items, but it's a way to give someone a meal and something they need without handing over cash (which many of us rarely have on hand these days anyway). The idea is to take one of the bags and keep it in your car so that it can be given to someone who is asking for money at intersections, off-ramps, and so on.

Immediately, I thought carrying one of these in my bike bag would be the best idea. I pass a number of homeless individuals regularly while riding, and often they are cycling themselves. What a great opportunity to be able to share. Of course, since putting the TAG bag into my saddlebag, I have yet to run into a single person in need of this sort of assistance. I have, however, run into folks when I'm on my road bike and have almost no ability to carry anything with me. It's as though the universe is conspiring to keep me from meeting up with the person who could use the assistance of a small meal.

All of this has had me thinking about my own youth and personal feelings of helplessness - both then and the present time. I keep recalling a very specific incident from my childhood. As a kid, I always wanted to help others, so if I had any sort of opportunity or could convince my family to help someone, I felt I was doing what I could in my own way. When I was about 8 years old, my family was at a gas station filling up when we noticed what appeared to be a homeless man sitting at the edge of the lot. My mom looked at me, handed me $5, and said, "Go on. Go and give this to that man over there." I remember smiling and feeling as though it was going to make his day.

I was a shy kid though, so the idea of talking to a stranger was sometimes more than I could handle. Slowly, I walked up to him. His head was hanging low, scraggly, dark brown hair in his face. I must've cleared my throat or made some sort of noise because he suddenly looked up to stare at me. His eyes were glazed over and even at my relatively young age, I knew he was probably intoxicated. I started to say something, but the words just weren't coming out of my mouth. It seemed like an eternity that he was watching me, but I finally had enough voice to smile and say, "Here. Hopefully, this will help you," as I handed over the five dollar bill. His response to me was, "Hey, thanks kid. Now I can go get some weed."

I returned to our family car, completely crushed. It's almost as though I can pinpoint that moment as the day I lost some of my faith in humanity. This individual... some man who I didn't know, had broken my spirit, a part of my willingness to give. He took away a small piece of my innocence that no child should lose. It's not as though I became completely hardened and never helped anyone again, but I honestly cannot recall ever giving cash to someone on the streets again after that day. My mother asked me what he said when I returned to the car, and I didn't even know how to respond. As we were driving away, I recall trying to process what had just taken place, and eventually, I was able to share what the man had said with my family.

There have been numerous occasions since that day when I've had the opportunity to help someone. If I am completely honest, I never really lost that desire to help when someone is in need; really, it just got buried behind my invisible wall of protection. I think I simply adapted and found other ways to assist like volunteering at a food bank, or offering to buy a meal for someone on the street. Somehow, it seemed safer and I wouldn't have to deal with the reality that a person may not use the cash for something that I viewed as necessary.

In many ways, I think it's easy to separate our world into the "have's" and the "have-not's," when in reality, it isn't that simple. There are many of us located on a long spectrum of possibilities between having everything and having nothing. In fact, most of us fall in between the two extremes. Perhaps we've even landed at different points on the spectrum throughout our lives, and then there's the reality that there is still time to find ourselves at either extreme. Personally, I know what it is to not have a home and to wonder from where I would find the next meal. It isn't necessarily a fun place to be, but I also remember that time of my life as one of my biggest personal growth periods. There are moments when I realize how easy it could have been to remain exactly where I was, but because of a little help from others - sometimes the smallest gesture - I was able to find a way out.

When I think about that moment as a child, that little speck of time that crushed a little bit of helping spirit within me, I try to balance it with the thought of those who helped me when I needed it later in life. I do my best to realize that some people want assistance, and others simply don't. Some are looking for a handout, others are looking for a hand up, as the saying goes.

I have decided that when I give out the TAG bag that's riding around in my saddlebag with me on my adventures around town, I'm also going to give out a bit of cash with it. Why? Because I am reclaiming that little bit of self that was lost so long ago. It no longer matters if the person uses it to buy weed, cigarettes, or alcohol, or if they choose to use it for his/her next meal or an article of clothing. I'm not saying I'll be handing out cash to everyone I see asking for it in the future, but I think it's time to reclaim my whole, true self... and perhaps this will help begin to restore me to... well, me.


  1. Thank you for the thoughtful post. My friend would put a toonie (Canada's $2 coin) into gloves and give this to the older street people. It was her way of giving a bit of money and much needed gloves in winter.

    1. What a lovely idea. I think that would work well in many cold areas too. It's nice to know that there are people still willing to offer help in the world, so thank you.


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