“Are ya gonna give me some money now?”
“I have some plums.”
“I don’t like plums, do you have any bananas?”
“Sorry, I have plums, and I am happy to give you some.”
“No, I only take bananas…or money. Are ya gonna give me some money now?”
At that point, I fell from Heaven, the holy mystery of offering sustenance was lost here.
This scene happened as I was leaving my local food Co-op after picking up a few groceries. At first, I didn’t notice anything unusual from the encounter with the young man, except a Twilight Zone-like twinge as I shrugged and walked away. My personal policy is to not give money, especially to someone who is clearly using like this fellow; I offer food or transit passes. This interaction left me cold.
A day or so later I realized I was avoiding all panhandling people in wheelchairs and scooters, and those slumped against walls. Even avoiding eye contact. This was not the usual me.
I phoned my good friend who is an extreme civil rights activist for voters with disabilities and shared my new insight: people with disabilities are marginalized by society and governments because they are their own worst enemy. It is one thing to ask for equality, and even for charity, but all I could feel now after the plum affair was ‘beggars can’t be choosers’! I had fallen down into the realm of depersonalizing the very real people I live with every day. My friend was patient, especially considering I had missed the point of his work; they are panhandling simply because they are disabled, not necessarily because they deserve it or bear some moral failing.
That Twilight Zone twinge kept poking me. As I read Arthur Green’s book, Seek My Face for an assignment, I found the pathway back to my special place of Heichalot, heavenly mystery. He tells how Reb Nahman Kossover, a merchant and Kabbalist, hired an assistant to look at during work, so he could remember the name of Gd by looking at the assistant’s face.
We are all b’tselem Elohim, created in Gd’s image. I know that: in fact I’ve always lived that, having skipped the phase where children learn from their families and on school playgrounds who looks pretty, fat, cute, foreign, cockeyed, handsome, crippled. Those outer husks never really registered with me, until I met Mr. Bananas-or-Money-Only.
Had I been in Heichalot all those years until then? Is ignorance bliss? The young man who preferred bananas was my teacher. Who was being picky, me or him? I can’t change the healthcare or social services system overnight, but I can see him as my neighbor, and my reflection. The young man’s challenge to my platitudes caused me to seek a way back from the depths I had fallen to, a Merkavah, holy chariot, back to Heaven.
Next time I was at London Drugs, I bought some boxes of cereal bars and a pack of transit passes. I carry a few of each in my handbag now whenever I go out, because once again I am able to see Gd’s face in my neighbors’.