For those of you who know me well, this will come as a shock. One night last week, I indulged a panhandler outside of Seven Eleven. My late night, insomniac sweet tooth got the better of me. So, my roommate and I walked two blocks for some Reece’s Pieces and maybe even a package of Mint Milanos. There was a small and withered man sitting outfront in a wheelchair, and all he wanted was something to eat. He said he didn’t want booze, or cigarettes, or any cash. Just something to eat.
He must have caught me on a hormonal PMS upswing because I caved and bought him a turkey sandwich, potato chips, and a bottle of water. I almost started crying as I stood in the check outline. (It was a busy Wednesday night at the Seven Eleven by City College.) I don’t know what came over me. Maybe because this wasn’t some kid with dreadlocks and a clever sign about needing cash for weed, but a man who just needed something to eat. Maybe my Uncle Marty, a passionate advocate for the homeless who passed 3 years ago, was watching over me. I am not usually sensitive the plight of the homeless. Though I try not to be judgmental, I find it offensive to be harassed for my spare change while I’m walking home from work.
When I handed the man outside of Seven Eleven the bag of food, he asked me for one more thing. He asked me to say Grace with him. I held his dirty hand as he blessed his food, thanked God and blessed me. His name, he told me was Gaston. It was only the second time in my life I’ve been afraid to shake someone’s hand. I’m not gonna lie…I washed my own hands as soon as I got home.
In no other place I’ve than I’ve ever been to before, Santa Barbara always feels so disparagingly extreme between rich and poor. I’ve almost always been self conscious and concerned about my own place on this monetary totem pole. I’d be lying if I said, never once was I consumed and led astray by trying to climb higher on it. But that night, outside of Seven Eleven, a perplexing sense of Grace helped me get a little more perspective.