I sat there in the park under a cuddly sun and biting breeze. An old man approached me with a smile, and introduced himself as Manuel. He asked if I wanted him to show me the ruins of San Sebastián, which loomed over the park with a forgotten arrogance. I smiled and told him, “No, gracias. I live across the road and can see San Sebastián every day." Manuel looked down and gave me a toothy smile. He paused. “I am hungry and would like some money for lunch, por favor.” Something in me squirmed.
It’s not that I didn’t want to be generous. It’s not that I didn’t have money to spare. But something in me panics when I’m asked for money. It’s so far outside of our Western pride and sense of normality to ask strangers for money. Perhaps I hate being forced to play the role of ‘rich white girl’. Or maybe a part of me despairs that my money won’t do much. It might buy someone a meal, but I’m often discouraged by the knowledge that it would take a whole lot more to break the shackles of poverty. Whatever it was, I left the park feeling ashamed. I stumbled briskly along the cobbled stone road, trying to justify my lack of generosity. ‘Why is it that I can’t relax and buy him lunch? Do I have a right to turn away from a man who tells me he’s hungry? Did I just refuse to help someone in need?’ Of course, amidst my swirling guilt and existential moral crisis, I almost tripped over three beggars. I don't want to be naive. I know I can't trust everyone who asks me for money. I don't want to be a push-over, either. But I do want to keep my eyes open, my heart soft, and my fists unclenched. I want to use whatever I have - money, time, a smile - to help.
Next time I meet a Manuel, I want to be brave.
Next time, I want to have wisdom.
I want to smile warmly, and help graciously.
I have a lot to learn.
-Madeleine Matthew 5:42 “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”