"No, that is the great fallacy; the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful."
"Perhaps that is wisdom."
"It is a very unattractive wisdom. What do you value most?"
"Some one I love."
"With me it is the same. That is not wisdom. Do you value life?"
"So do I. Because it is all I have."
-Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929)
Clip (2 mins): From Seven (1995). Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman discuss different views on apathy. Screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker.
She was fifty, with a cute and approachable face. Her glasses were a touch foggy and may have been broken, and her brown sweatshirt was frayed and lived in, with that moisture a fleece accumulates after continuous long hours outside. I didn't read her cardboard sign as I walked past, in a hurry like the rest of the urban human race, but I noted her presence. Fourth and Pine, northwest corner, under the overhang. She was sitting with her back against the diagonal corner wall of the Macy's building, in front of the window display modeling clothes and Christmas presents.
I had about ten minutes before my 49 showed up. As I've mentioned before, I give food but not money, and today I had no food on hand. I had a few bills, but hesitated to part with them as I'd just cleaned out my bank accounts preparing an upcoming trip to Europe– in my own world, I was poor. I'll watch and wait, I decided, before doing anything. It's the Christmas season. Maybe all these passing crowds were relishing the giving spirit of the holiday, and were handing off pastries and coffee and loose change like nobody's business.
Part of my reason for thinking this was recent a memory of driving around (in my car) on Thanksgiving night. I'd just had a terrifically massive meal among friends, and was tooling around downtown before going home, equipped with copious leftovers and searching for folks in need. Incredibly, however, everyone already had food! I couldn't believe what I was looking at. Here was a city of street corners chomping on turkey and ham with pineapple. A couple of men underneath I-5 at Cherry topped it all off– I approached them trying to get the attention of one who was urinating behind a pillar, but before they heard me I noticed their plates of food, which were complete with well-done steak and potatoes that still had gravy! These guys had better-looking leftovers than I did! The scrambled eggs still looked warm, for Pete's sake.
The generous had already passed through town, and I continued home amused and pleasantly surprised. I did manage to part with stuffing and macaroni– a man at I-5 and Madison got excited when I walked toward him in the dark yelling, "do you like stuffing?"– but that was all.
Additionally, I recently bought a coffee for a character at Third and Cherry, only to have two others walk across the street to supply her with coffee at exactly the same time. Worse things have happened, we concluded. Maybe this woman at Fourth and Pine had similarly already been helped. It was the holidays, after all. I tarried, taking up a post just outside her periphery by some newspaper bins, and settled in to watch things play out.
I was very wrong. Thanksgiving at midnight must summon an urge for sharing that the pre-Christmas shopping crush simply does not possess. I watched the hordes at Westlake walk past, and walk past, and walk past, decked out in finery and stress, without a care beyond their own in the world. It was a cacophony of shopping bags and heels, watches and plush sweaters and skin daubed up with cream. There's a man around who sometimes carries a sign saying, "I feel invisible," and that sentiment certainly applied here. Watching all of this from her perspective it felt as if the affluence was being rubbed in her face consciously. A well-dressed young man, either massively ignorant or bent on doing the above, walked directly in front her as he arranged large bills in a money clip (tip for the uninitiated: don't do that when near Third and Pine!).
After seven minutes of sentry duty I decided action was necessary. I stepped across to Starbucks, immediately stepping back out upon seeing the long line. Not enough time to buy anything; forget the food rule. I'll just have to give her one of the two fives I was carrying.
"Hey," I said, entering her field of vision. "How's it going."
"Not too good,"
Don't tell anyone I gave her two transfers as well. I swear it's not a habit: "here. This is for now, and this is for later."
"Oh, thank you."
"And I'm gonna give you one of these fives, I need the other one to buy lunch,"
"Oh thank you."
"I've been watching you, and I can't believe that no one has stopped!"
"I know. No one's given me anything for three hours."
Wow, I thought. "Okay, you need to have the rest of this," I said, handing her the remaining five. "My name's Nathan."
Handshake. "You can ride my bus anytime, any day."
"Be safe today." As I began walking away, I added, "treat yourself to something nice."
Upon hearing that she burst into tears. That wasn't the effect I intended the line to have. Her shoulders shook from crying.
I should've stayed with her longer.