Helping in the Face of Maybes

As I pulled out of the parking lot near the law school into a stream of heavy traffic late yesterday afternoon, I saw a man walking down the line of cars begging, carrying a sign in his hands. I immediately opened the car window and pulled out of my bag a $10 gift card for Davanni’s, located a few blocks away, and waited to drive near enough to the man to give it to him.

As slowly I neared him (traffic was quite bad), I noticed the man behaving strangely. He would sometimes be walking toward the cars begging (without any success) and other times be standing looking off yelling. I first thought he might be talking to someone, but it then seemed he was directing his apparent anger to a nearby lamp post. As he turned again toward the line of cars and began to move closer to my car, I considered whether I should just close my window and look away, wondering if he might pose any danger. I actually did momentarily close it, but almost immediately opened it again.

The man walked toward me with his sign, which read “Homeless. Anything would help.” I motioned him over and handed him the gift card, smiling and saying, “Here. There is $10 on this for the Davanni’s that is just over on the next street, on the corner of 12th and Hennepin. Go over there and get yourself something to eat.” As I spoke, he was looking directly at me with clear eyes, and when I finished he said, “Okay. Thank you.” And he walked directly over to where his bag was, picked it up and began walking in the direction of Davanni’s.

Maybe the man was a con artist trying to get what he could from people. Maybe he was so crazy that he would drop the gift card on the steet or into the gutter.

But maybe he was just a tired and hungry man without a home, and mine were the first kind words he heard spoken to him all day. And maybe sitting inside of a restaurant with a sandwich or pizza and a soft drink in front of him on the table would go a little way toward filling his body and soul.

I’ll never know which of a long list of maybes was actually the case. But I know I would have deeply regretted it if I had closed my window and looked away. In a situation like that, I’d much rather risk being “taken” than not take a chance that might make a real difference to someone.