Not Always Cheerful Giving
Uncle Mikey calls me beautiful.
That isn’t why eating with him gave me joy. We’re not related; for all I know, “Mikey” isn’t his name.
Uncle Mikey begs outside one of the main buildings at my university. “Looking beautiful today,” he yells. Usually, I stop and chat. Sometimes, I give. He doesn’t need it.
“I only keep a little out at a time,” he explained as I sat with him one afternoon. He stored most of what people gave in a duffle bag, keeping enough in his collection cup to maintain the appearance of need.
We dined together one evening. Running late, I purchased a bagel on my way to class, but arrived to find it cancelled. We sat on the concrete together, licking herb and garlic cream cheese while darkness grew.
That I found joy eating with a beggar shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Christianity; Jesus often told his followers to give to the poor. But that’s not the only reason this made me happy. It made me feel better about myself.
I know, probably, why Uncle Mikey begs. He doesn’t have to explain that the bottle he keeps in his bag doesn’t contain water. I’ve never been drunk; I’ve never fought alcohol addiction. I’m not like him.
I don’t differ from every panhandler I meet.
As a spiritual discipline, I give regularly: at church, to missionaries, and beggars. The first two groups receive money. The last often receive transit tokens or food.
“I live on disability,” one man at a subway station explained after I gave him a token. I glanced at my white cane and wanted to cry. Legally blind, I use a small cane when travelling. It means people often ask if I need help. It means I pause when people ask for money. When I refuse, my guilt intensifies. In most countries, I could be begging.
When my friends ignore or refuse beggars, I worry. “Don’t they know,” I fret, “I receive social assistance, that to many I’m a beggar? Would they ignore me?”
That day by the turnstiles, I wanted to scream, “I get disability, too! I don’t beg!” Instead, I grumbled in my heart. It wasn’t the happiest charitable moment, let alone the most joyful.
“God bless you,” Uncle Mikey calls – even to people who ignore him. In this way, perhaps, he models divine generosity, showing everyone grace, even those of us who are outwardly humble, and inwardly proud.
Meagan Gillmore is a writer and editor currently living in Toronto. She likes to travel, without and with assistance. She writes about her disability, but prefers journalism that allows her to learn about other people’s lives. Herb and garlic cream cheese is still her favourite.