Originally published on Passive Activities and Other Oxymorons on May 17, 2010.
This is a true story that happened last week. I've changed the names and locations to keep the people involved annonymous though.
My friend James was in Jacksonvillie FL the other night. He was attending a business reception of some sort. It was one of those events where everybody stands around and talks with one another with a brief interlude of some persons of greater or lesser dignitariness patting one another on the back. You need four hands when you are at these events what with limited places to put things down while eating, drinking, shaking hands and exchanging business cards. The last being more or less than the point of attending such events.
Anyway James is less than gifted as a mingler but his job requires him to attend such events from time to time. Not unusually for him he got confused on the way there and ended up parking a goodly distance from the event. After walking a couple of blocks he decided to leave his car where it was since he finds walking less stressful than driving. Whether some greater force was involved in his decision is left for the reader to decide. If there is one.
The event was noisier than most and due to fatigue (from a very early flight not from the walk which was actually invigorating) his mingling was below par even for him. On the other hand they had shrimp and really tender roast beef on small pieces of bread. After the remarks, he circled the crowd a few more times. Deciding he could call it a night he headed back to his rental car.
Halfway back to his car he met Sammy. Sammy was a scrawny looking white guy in his mid 40's with a really impressive set of tattoos who asked James for some money. James has a policy of not giving money to pan handlers but there is nothing hostile about it. Not having any further agenda for the night he perked up and asked Sammy if he was hungry. This is James method for distinguishing professional pan handlers from people that he might be able to help out a little. Sammy indicated that he was quite hungry. He was banned from the nearby convenience store so James took his order and went in and bought him a sub and a Coke.
Before chowing down Sammy asked if he could borrow Jim's phone to call his aunt in Chicago. He had to leave her a message. James would have preferred to take Sammy to a restaurant, but there was none nearby so they just stood on the sidewalk and chatted.
Sammy had been having a hard time. He was having a hard time finding any work. He was living by the railroad track and had been recently beaten up pretty badly. As the story developed it became quite clear that Sammy would be a lot better off if he could be with his aunt.
Sometimes its just real clear what needs to be done. So James drove Sammy to the Greyhound station and bought him a non-refundable ticket to Chicago. He watched him get on the bus and then phoned the aunt to let her know he was on the way.
He was worried about Sammy spending 20 plus hours in transit with no money so he gave a few bucks to go with the tooth brush, mouth wash and snacks that he bought him for the ride. The next day he was worried that the money might have been a bad idea because Sammy confessed while waiting for the bus that he would have drank the price of a bus ticket if James had given it to him rather than buying a ticket for him. The ride to Chicago involved a couple of bus changes. So James called the aunt one more time and ended up talking to Sammy who is very grateful to be off the street.
James is still processing the experience. He wants to cultivate a spirit of detached generosity. On the other hand he wants to share his joy in the whole experience. It is just possible that he saved Sammy's life. He is hoping Sammy doesn't screw up again, but - I don't know.
So what does this have to do with St Patrick's Day. This year I started San Patricios Against Hunger, because I think that Americans of Irish descent should remember that they are quite likely descended from famine refugees and should celebrate by making donations to hunger fighting charities. The approach James takes towards panhandlers is an extension of the principal. The point is not to just stop enabling alcohol abuse, but to substitute a positive life affirming act.
We'll see what happens in June.