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A Humbling Place To Learn

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I couldn’t stand out there in the cold, leaning against a building, waiting for people to pull up into the drive-thru so I could hit them up for a dollar. Not without losing some of my mind. My mental faculties wander around just waiting for the coffee to brew in the morning. So what’s my dollar? What is it really? Yes, I know you’re a drunk, loser, alcoholic, whatever. And in the grand scheme of things, what difference does it make?

I remember being a child, sleeping on the cold, hard surface of the kitchen floor in front of the refrigerator vent. It was warmer there than under the worn blanket laying on the bed that sat next to the cracked window, letting in all of winter’s wind.

I was a child and felt what you feel. I was helpless then; now I’m not. What have I done with what I’ve learned? What have I learned? Pitifully little. How can I turn you down, a grown human child? Yes, you’re going to spend it on liquor or cigarettes, so what? So was I, at some point. So my dollar puts you that much closer to your misguided need. What are my misguided needs? I’m the one sitting in this drive-thru waiting for one stupidly overpriced soda while you curl up the collar of your jacket against the wind. How did I get to be the acceptable one and you the shunned? You asked kindly enough.

Why did it hurt to watch you walk up the street? It hurts because I’m not disconnected. Oh, I want to be. I want to think I am. I want to say you and I did not come from the same mould. I want to say we don’t share the same fears and idiosyncrasies — you from yours and me from mine. I’ve deliberately detached and what have I lost in the process? What else do I not feel, see, and hear? What tic of the heart do I now have as a result of cutting myself off from those just like me, only not as warm?

So here guy, here’s the dollar. It’s all you asked for and I don’t know what else to give you. I don’t know what else I have to give that you would want. I’ll tell the drive thru people I changed my mind. They’ll know it had something to do with me giving you the dollar and they’ll think less of both of us. It’s only fair.

You’ve moved on to where your next dollar is going to come from and, in the comfort of my car, in the middle of the drive-thru, I write about your affect on me.

What a humbling place to learn.

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About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.
  • Yes, Diana, it is an awfully good piece and an awful feeling of confusion, guilt, generosity and worry whenever the person seems to really need what they are asking but you ask yourself and wonder and make that decision that is easy for now — a few pesos, a dollar in the US — and might be so important for them. Or they may drink it up and you will be to blame — confusion.

  • It’s an awful feeling…to be torn between giving, and not.

    There was a news piece here not too long ago about the people who sometimes beg off the highway, many with signs stating their circumstances. They can be found in every city. The piece was about how many of these people are alcoholics, soliciting cash to fund their addiction. It showed how they often work together, taking turns on a given on or off-ramp, working in shifts…portraying these souls in such a negative way.

    Then I was reminded of a family in Dallas, I think they were on 20/20 or Dateline a few years ago, talking about how after the dot.com bust, the husband lost his job, the family was going bankrupt. The wife resorted to begging off the freeway just to help make their mortgage payment, in addition to her working two part-time jobs, while her husband took a job making a quarter of his previous salary.

    Everyone’s circumstance is different. I fear we have become too judgemental. Sometimes i fear we are losing our humanity. What drives a person to do what they do? It’s different for all of us.

    What a wonderful piece, Diana.

  • Great piece, diana.

    I’ve been feeling the same conflict recently. There are actually two young but rather unattractive German guys living in a cave overlooking the sea not 50 metres from where I sit, complete with the obligatory dogs on a string lead.

    I want to give them money, particularly for the sake of the dogs, two of which are just puppies. Then again, I also want to kick the crap out of them for all the damage they are causing and the rubbish and mess they are making.

  • There’s nothing wrong with you Diana. You just still feel in a world where very few people do anymore.