With my mental-emotional ambiance somewhere between reverie and high-energy, my morning coffee buzz perniciously fading into a disposition of vacancy and complacency--- I sat in the passenger seat of a white, 2000 Ford Explorer. My attention was swindled in by an elderly Asian woman, lugging behind her a bin of belongings, begging for change. We've all witnessed this, even those raised in protective, transient-free neighborhoods. I seem to notice these people all too often, nowadays, though. I've ascertained through recent experience that it's one step for a person leading a relatively normal life to register the presence of a homeless; it's a second step to attempt empathetic connection with the distanced human; and the third step requires acting on the conscience embedded within consciousness, to assist with money needs or other means of generosity. Spending years in an attractively moderate-temperature beach town like Santa Cruz, one can't avoid recognizing the high volume of transient individuals occupying street corners, all around town; some are actually houseless, others opting to venture to the land of redwoods and briny air for a sabbatical. But in Santa Cruz, these two groups of people are typically decipherable, if one is familiar with how each group of persons represent themselves with clothes, carrying items, or appearance of physique. My point, here: not every under-weight individual schlepping a heavy pack, and dressed in filthy skin is in need of others' resources to make it through the week. My past years spent in Santa Cruz has transformed me into someone who can't resist but follow through with the aforementioned "three step process, when encountering an earthling looking needy." Was it the numerous guilt-ridden moments from the past when I didn't lend a hand? Part of me thinks so. The other portion of myself believes it was the Santa Cruz ocean which changed me, hypnotizing my brain to become more like it: yielding, supple, and graceful--- yet more powerful than the most forceful man-made machinery. Would I be the ocean on this day, acting softly, with great strength? Or might my heavy coffee-come-down cause me to act as the desert, barren, with nothing for no one but me, myself, and I?
As the fog tip-toed over the mountains into Berkeley, California, my brother replenished the Ford's gas tank, while the woman requested change from everyone feeding their vehicles gasoline. Like everyone else at the station, my brother denied her, some offering a half-hearted apology. If only she could go to a nearby store, strut up to the cashier with goods, and pay with a pocket full of sorries.
Slightly slouching there, in the front seat, I rapidly mulled over the possibility of being charitable in this moment. I could be; I would be. My heart, or at least the neurotransmitters which communicate with the heart, wouldn't have it any other way. But how much? It wasn't a billion dollar question, yet it was a question worth monetary value. Dropping her a few coins wouldn't satisfy today; not for me, the giver, and plausibly not for her, the desperate looking begger. I peered into the wallet compartment wherein I keep my cash. I had a few singles and two ten dollar bills. I'd decided to hand the quaint Asian lady a ten. I lurched out of the car in pursuit of giving, and my brother immediately inquired if I was walking to the restroom. Answering yes quickly and thoughtlessly, I jogged around the gas station convenient store. Ah, I caught her! She was walking at a brisk pace so I figured I'd yell out to turn her around.
"Ma'am! Ma'am!" She swiveled; I walked up to her and looked directly in her eyes as if to scan her: primarily to assess how poor off she really was. I desired to be generous, but getting scammed is one of the worst feelings. The Asian lady seemed reasonably healthy, and she was sporting decent clothes, not soiled rags as can happen when you're down on luck financially. However, there was a good dosage of suffering and strife in those eyes.
When I transferred the ten dollars to her palm she looked down to see how lucky she'd gotten. She gazed up and said, thank you... maybe.... I can't remember how the woman verbally responded, to be honest, because she smiled brighter than the East Bay sun-- blinding and deafening me simultaneously. But it was a type of blissful disorientation that she provided. Almost comparable to staring at the sun. I had to squint momentarily, as warm internal tickling of organic chemicals trickled down from my brain to my heart, and down to my gut to take a pleasure swim. I felt high for a few seconds; and I don't believe these pleasing sentiments were induced by the satisfaction of giving my hard-earned currency to someone else appearing needy, someone utterly irrelevant in my personal life. No, my mood was boosted, because I hadn't remembered the last time a person conceded such a magnificently full-fledged expression of contentment towards me.
Through action and reflection, I solidified an acquired philosophy of mine that day: no matter who you are, homeless elder or golden spoon fed teenager--- as long as humans remain emotional creatures (part animal), opposed to desensitized calculators (part machine)--- we'll all be beggers and givers (in some sense, to some degree, at some time) of the pleasurable feelings that allows for contentment. I'd guess and gamble that most people function on desires, various and variable, tangible and intangible; at the root of these desires is the necessity to feel OK. As beings fueled and driven by thought and emotion we need internal voids bubbled-in occasionally, in order to continue surviving, or God-willing-- thriving. Some of us crave the elusive dollar, while others merely need more hugs and smiles.
As of late, spending money is a thorn in my side, as my finances reside barely above sea level. But that was a guilt-free, $10 well spent. I arrived back in the front seat of the Ford, still dazed from the woman's display of overwhelming joy. I wonder how long she's had to ask people for money? Boy, those teeth were awfully pearly.