Random Act of Charity

Interesting thing happened to me tonight that got me thinking…

I was walking home from the supermarket with one full bag on either side of me. It’s warm out right now, and I was (sort of) leisurely strolling down the sidewalk thanks to an intense 10K run earlier today with my friend Anthony when I heard a woman’s voice behind me saying “miss! Hey miss!” I turned around and saw a young black woman with a baby hurrying toward me and against my instinctual “just ignore it” response, I stopped for her. When she caught up to me she was very polite and told me she could walk with me so she didn’t make me stop and wait for her. She then said that she’s from Mount Vernon (north of NYC for the uninitiated) and she came down to Brooklyn because her mother just passed away this morning, and she’s been here all day waiting for the coroner. I told her I was sorry to hear that, but you could tell that it hadn’t really sunk in for her yet. She told me that in her frenzy of hearing the news this morning and rushing down to Brooklyn, she didn’t realize how low her gas was and she ran out right after she left the house. She had her car parked at a gas station down the street (one I’ve run past many times, so I know it’s there), and has been looking for someone to help her. What got me thinking as I reflect back on this now are the responses she received before me from people she asked for help:

  • One “good samaritan” stopped and told her he’d help her in exchange for sex. Wow, how charitable of you. Mind you, she has her 11 month old son with her as well. Consequently, she was now too afraid to ask any men for help after that and flagged me down because I’m a woman.
  • I remembered that I pass by a church up the street every morning when I walk to the train, but they turned her down because she’s not a member. Wow, how “Christian” of you.
  • The police told her that she’s not a AAA member, so there’s nothing they can do. Wow, how corporate of you?

I, unfortunately, only had a $5 on me because I’d just used the last of my cash on groceries and that’s probably not enough to get back up to Mount Vernon, but I gave it to her anyway, and wished her good luck. In New York it’s easy to have a “no” reaction every time someone asks you for help because we get panhandled all the time, but this made me reflect a little bit on what it means to be human and also the sheer F’d up ways in which people attempt to take advantage of someone in clear need (like the good samaritan up there) or the so-called “official” people or groups (church, police, etc.) who simply ignore it. The “good samaritan” story really gets to me; how disgusting is that? “I’ll help you for sex.” What? You think because she’s young, black, and has a baby that you’re “entitled” to demand sex in exchange for help that she clearly needs? You make me sick.

I guess it’s a good thing once in a while to stop and listen even though that New Yorker instinct of “just keep walking” is screaming in the back of your mind. I have an excellent BS detector given the work that I do, but I believed her story. I’ll admit that when I heard someone trying to talk to me from behind the thought “just ignore it” crossed my mind. In this case, I’m glad I ignored it.


2 responses to “Random Act of Charity

  1. WOW!!! Insane. Really does make you think. I saw a woman in the subway on the way home that was using her 5 or 6 year old child to help ask for money. I felt bad, but at the same time wonder what the REAL situation is. Are they really in that position or is she just using her child for drug money?

  2. Well, the 11 m/o couldn’t really ask me for any money. 😉

    But I know…it’s why I referenced the fact that we all get panhandled all of the time living in this city. However, I believed her, and sometimes it can be sickening to think that someone just looking for a little bit of help got solicited for sex by some asshole AND turned down by both the police and the church. That’s kind of sad.

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