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Day 12: The Spiritual Necessity of Tithing and Alms Giving

I gave money to the man who appears every day on the expressway off-ramp at Armitage and I-90east. I see him there walking slowly, shuffling really. He smiles a weak and nearly toothless smile, his face brown and rugged like the sign he carries, “Need help. Please.”

Generally I don’t give money to homeless people directly. I was broken of that habit years ago by a man who had no legs but that’s another story. Today, the story is about some shift that happened in me as I sat at the longest red light on the planet. The man on the off ramp is there consistently with his ragged cardboard sign. It’s a simple ask, each and every day. This is his ritual I imagine. Get up, feel the air on the skin, make adjustments as able for the weather, shuffle to the intersection with the longest red light on the planet (or at least in Chicago.)

On this day, though, I sat and watched him. I prayed for him, as I do, quietly and with some real intention for his well-being. But it was especially cold this day. I knew it because I’d been waiting for my son while standing outside. The snow was falling very lightly. Play snow, nothing serious, a quick teaser for our coming winter. It’s not play to someone who lives on the street. Maybe he doesn’t live on the street. Maybe he’s scamming me. Maybe he’s just getting something for nothing.

Standing on the exit ramp of I-90 seems like nothing from where I sit in my warm Honda mini SUV. I look down into the console between the front seats and see the small stash of quarters there. I’d gathered those a few months ago because my tire had a leak and my bank account didn’t support my request for a new tire yet. I knew I’d get that tire eventually, and of course I have AAA, I have a backup plan. I wasn’t going far. I just kept air in the tire, that kept me going until I got where I needed to go next.

But now I have a new tire and a small stash of quarters. I looked at the man shuffling from car to car at the longest red light on the planet and when he approached me I opened my window. He came over fast, he knows the timing of these things. I did not take the time to look carefully into his eyes and decide how needy he was. His tire was low, he needed air and I had it there in the console between my front seats.

I scooped up the coins and placed them into his bare hand. No cup. No bowl. No gloves. His hands were worn. I expected that.

“God bless you” he said, “and thank you.” I shook my head. “No, the blessing is for you. I’m doing okay.” he smiled a weak, nearly toothless smile and the light changed. I drove off feeling sad and lonely, cold from the winter, warm from the car, the clash between them being evident.

We are so far apart, I thought. So far apart.

#winter #begging #care #homeless #almsgiving #tithing