The Test

A few days ago I was tested and failed. It all started when I went to the neighborhood grocery store to mail a bill that was due the next day. The mail box outside the stores main entrance gets picked up at 5:00 pm, it was 4:52 pm but since I live only a few blocks away I figured I could still get my bill there on time, so I jumped in my car and off I went. Arriving at the store a few minutes later I parked in the first row off to the right of the main entrance. I grabbed the bill and left my purse behind. Darting quickly between cars, I crossed from the parking lot to the store front, popped the letter into the dark blue metal box and took a deep breath as I checked the time on the cell phone in my coat pocket; it was 4:58 pm I made it with 2 minutes to spare. As I turned around and began to walk back across the street to the parking lot I noticed a young man walking directly toward me. He was in his early 20’s, very tall and wore a puffy black nylon coat and long gray pants that hung on him like they were 2 sizes too big. His hair was cut short and looked well kept. He did not look unclean or disheveled, like he might if he had been living on the street, so I was surprised when he asked me to buy him something to eat.

Living in Rogers Park for the past 7 years I have become accustomed to people asking me for money. Sometimes if I run a number of errands I am approached three or four times in a day; on the way into the grocery store, on the way out of the grocery store, at Walgreen's, at the corner of McCormick and Howard waiting for the red light to turn green, you get the picture. When I first moved to the area I would give whenever I could but honestly over the years I have grown tired of always being asked for money and stopped giving. Usually I just smile politely and walk on by saying not today or maybe another day and I think to myself if I knew what the money was for or if someone asked me to buy them a meal I would give.

As I walked past the young man he asked me first if there were any shelters in the area. When I said “I did not know of any,” he asked if I would buy him something to eat. At this point I was almost to my car, I stopped, hesitated and said “I think I have a couple of dollars,” to which he replied “I did not ask for money.” I unlocked the car, opened the door and reached into my purse pulling out three or four dollars wadded up together, all the cash I had, and gave it to him. He took the money, said “thank you,” and started for the entrance to the store. I slide back into my open car and closed the door, locking it as I always do. My fingers hesitated over the lock as I looked up to see if the young man was still visible but he was nowhere in sight. Assuring myself that I did what I could I started the car, backed out of the parking spot, and headed for home without another thought of the young man.

An hour later I finished preparing my supper; grilled chicken breast with BBQ sauce, a baked potato and a generous side of chopped spinach and mushrooms sautéed in olive oil. I sat down to eat, put one fork full of spinach and mushrooms into my mouth and began to cry. I realized the few dollars I gave the young man was not enough to buy a good meal and what I should have done, what I always said I would do, was to go with him into the store and buy him something to eat. I have been so blessed. I have never gone hungry or worried where my next meal would come from and now when someone was asking for my help I failed.

I did not want to go with him into the store because I would feel uncomfortable and it would take more time than I wanted to give. It was easier to just give him money. I have been involved with different charity organizations over the years; I volunteered in soup kitchens, at an Aids care facility and have been an active member of Big brothers big sisters of America for the past 7 years but does that exempt me from helping another human being standing in front of me, hungry? Later that evening I went back to the store to see if he was still around, he was not. I prayed for someone more generous and open than me to take the time and buy him a meal. Then I prayed for myself asking God’s forgiveness and thanking him for my many blessings.

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