Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday indulgence

Hugo and I are leaving the Asian market and this guy comes up and he's all, I need money for some food. Let me write a poem about your son's name. Let me earn it. From his clothes and his smell I think maybe he is homeless.

I try not to slow down, the words no thanks forming somewhere--maybe they make it out loud, maybe not. But he walks with me.

He's all, I'm from Haiti, and ever since I was a boy I have loved writing, and writing poems. You'll see. There is energy in between the letters of our names. You'll see.

And Hugo's all, to the guy, I have an owie!

So I relent. He's all, don't give me money until you see it. What's your son's name?

And I'm all, Hugo.

And the guy is all, NO. Hugo? Like Victor Hugo? And he bows to me in respect, low like a Victorian gentleman asking me to dance. I love his work, he says.

And to Hugo, he's all, you have a big name, young man. You have a big name.

And Hugo's all, I'm TWO! I saw a dragon!

And then he writes. He draws HUGO down the side of his paper and writes a line after each letter.

And then he's done. He reads it to me.

Healing hand of a sweet relief
Under the sky of all souls, in a
Gorgeous cosmic dress of truth
On the bed of a successful journey.

I take it, compliment him. He says, I'm trying to get to Philadelphia to change my situation. I have family there.

I give him a few dollars, offer him the hot food I was going to bring home to Jeff. He takes it, seems genuinely grateful. I wish him luck. We leave.

I feel terrible, nervous and sick, stingy and duped all at the same time. I don't feel like I've done the right thing OR the wrong thing. I normally refuse direct solicitations for help, mostly for my own safety but also because--because why? I don't know. They will probably just go buy booze with it. I give to charity. She probably has to give it all to some guy anyway. If I gave to every person that asked for it... These things we tell ourselves, excuses we give ourselves to judge.

In the Cider House Rules the doctor who performs abortions is drug-addicted and miserable in his own life. But he performs this then-illegal service for women, refusing to get into the right and wrong of it. Just give them what they want, he says. Just give them what they want. I can't remember if it was the voice of a wise man or of one who has given up. But it comes to me often, that phrase.

So for today, I allowed myself that greatest indulgence of believing in a stranger, in taking him at his word. It didn't feel good. In fact, it felt terrible. Someone's son out there in the cold writing poetry for food. And me, stingy in my mistrust. Both of us undeserving.

In the car on the way home Hugo asked over and over for "the Twinkle Twinkle song." And then for it again, and again. Here is the second verse:

When the traveler in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark
He'd not know which way to go
If you did not twinkle so
Twinkle twinkle little star...

I hope that man finds his star to follow. I hope he has already.


ellen said...

Oh, Dear Nora..I wish that I had good words and advice.I wish that I knew all of the truth of this. I wish that all beings could be embraced with love without fear. I wish for the truth for all of us..young and old, men and women.
Prayers for all of us.
Love to you.

phd in yogurtry said...

that greatest indulgence of believing in a stranger

sometimes you just gotta give. and hey, he knew Victor Hugo. that's enough for me.

A few months back I saw a TV program about a guy who wrote poems for handout. I can only bring up a vague recollection. Can't remember if he eventually became famous? His writings were lengthy. I think he wrote a story for people. This was a white guy, an American, young-ish, perhaps in CA. So perhaps your experience is becoming trend.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I don't normally give money either, but I think I would have responded as you did.

edj said...

I am the same way. I feel terrible when I give, terrible when I don't. Even overseas, where poverty is truly dire, I know that the ones who need it most are home in the shacks and cardboard houses, not with hands out in the streets. But. Sometimes I give anyway, selfishly, because it's good for me. Who am I to judge so harshly? How much will it hurt me even if I do get burned?
And I'm a sucker for those who do something in return. A poem no less! I think you did the right thing.

Mama Goose said...

Despite your unease with the situation, I think you did a beautiful thing.

Tricia said...

Nora, I often feel the exact same way and am at a loss for what to do. The other day a young man from Israel knocked on the door. He was selling his paintings door-to-door, and I normally would not, but something struck me and I bought a beautiful oil on canvas from him.

JoLyn said...

I go through the same turmoil you did when I'm faced with this situation. I think what you did was good for YOUR soul and Hugo's, whether he was worthy of it or not. But I think his gratitude for what you gave him gives you an insight into his character.

smalltownmom said...

You did the right thing and he earned it with that poem. My encounter with a demanding woman at walmart went the other way - a resounding no.

PS. I never knew Twinkle Twinkle had a second verse.

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

I think you did right. I struggle with those same questions, but I figure it's always better to be kind.

Rebekah said...

You know, I love your blog. I always love it. But today this was, for me, one of the best posts I've ever read. I'm so moved.

GroundedGirl said...

I met this gentleman on 1st Ave back in September or October. His story was compelling. His words seemed guided by divine inspiration. Is it a bill of goods? Probably. Is there any harm in helping him? No. It feels good to believe in a stranger, as PhD in Yogutry said. Lovely story, Nora : )

Lacy said...

I think you did the right thing. I've heard somewhere that if we are true giver it should not matter what a person does with the gift.
If we are truely generous, we should not care if they crumple it up and throw it away. In this case, by beer or drugs.
It's better to give and have that happen then to not ever give and never help anyone.
It's on his conscience, now, not yours.

Vanessa said...

I have never known there even was a second verse to the Twinkle Twinkle Little Star song. Not being one to believe in accidents, I think it's no accident that he kept requesting that song after the "stranger" wrote him such a beautiful poem. What an experience to ponder....

Janet said...

You paid for something...and I'm sure it helped. Just you stopping and listening helped.

Susan said...

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

I'm not sure which of the two of you was the angel in this story. Probably both.

Love the poem, btw.

All Adither said...

This is one of the best blog posts I've ever read.

Professor J said...

Thank you for this post. When I give, I do so for myself. I have decided that it isn't my business to worry about how they spend the money or if they are cons. So now I give when I feel giving. And the poem? How nice is that?

JCK said...

What an amazing story, Nora. And that poem...

I didn't know the 2nd verse of Twinkle, Twinkle.

Angie said...

I love this Nora. Gave me chills. I too have had mixed feelings after giving to less fortunate people....why? This really hit home. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

i think about that, too. that's someone's baby out there.

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