Charming downtown Santa Cruz consists of just one street five blocks in length. Shops, restaurants and outdoor cafés border this attractive tree lined avenue. Street musicians abound as do beggars and near-beggars, those offering something in exchange for a contribution to their open coffer.
One of them stood in a building alcove bordering the sidewalk. Visibly out of the way. He was in his fifties wearing the uniform of the destitute; dark fabric, rumpled and soiled street clothes. And he held a fan of ink drawings against his chest. They were not very appealing; primitive geometric forms on post sized white cards. Offerings to attract benefactions.
I had just left Lulu’s coffee shop to walk homeward along the avenue. Entering the stream of strolling citizens I noticed this putative artist in the alcove. I approached him and reached in my pocket saying that I’d like to make a contribution without taking one of his drawings just now. He smilingly accepted the proposition. And I gave him a dollar.
Seeing this, his friend, standing not far off, declared that he too could use some money. “I need a cup of coffee,” said he. So I reached in my pocket and gave him a dollar.
Among the passersby was a cheeky middle aged lady out for a downtown promenade with her husband. She witnessed the affair and, thinking it an amusing scene, called out to all present, “Here’s someone giving money away”. And then, facing me, said, “How about some for me?”
I turned toward her, reached in my pocket and said, “Sure,” offering her a dollar, too. At that turn of events her playfulness evaporated. She backed away refusing the offering saying, “No, I don’t need it.”
“Only those who need it accept money on the street,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” she sang out as she sailed off out of conversation’s way. Her tone of voice conveyed more conviction in the matter than did her choice of words. Her tone said, “I’m sure it’s not so”.
I liked the playfulness of that lady who was bold enough to openly ask for money from someone who appeared to be giving it out to everybody on the street. She, not being in need, was too embarrassed to accept a dollar publically from a stranger. But, for those accepting donations, need had outstripped their pride.
She was convinced that those people didn’t need what they were asking for. But what she verbally denied, with her own actions, she demonstrated to be true. She wouldn’t acknowledge that those who accept money donations are in need. In need enough to put aside their pride. Not needing the dollar, she couldn’t put her’s aside to accept it.