On Tuesday night, my husband and I went on a date. The Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis was offering a preview of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. Al spent the day riding a street scrubber in the parking garage at the new JW Marriott currently being built on Washington Street. I settled the kids in after school, put on my dress up clothes and high heels and met him there. The sun was shining and it was still warm out so we walked the few blocks past the theatre. It was too early to get discount tickets so we headed down another block to the Rock Bottom Brewery for dinner and drinks.
Anyone who has spent any time in downtown Indianapolis knows the cross walks at the corner of Washington and Illinois, under the floor of the beautiful 7-story glass Artsgarden. This corner is the job site of resident panhandlers. I don’t know where they go when they are not on the corner but their faces are familiar so I know most of them are regulars. As Al and I walk toward Illinois street, I am faced with a dilemma. Suddenly, I don’t know where to look. We are about to walk past a man who is sitting on the corner, leaned back against the crossing light pole with a backpack and a sign that says, “Why lie, it’s for beer.” In the moment, all I know is that as I walk past in my dress-up clothes and high heels, I feel uncomfortable. I feel conflicted about this man sitting on the street corner. As we approach, he says, “Hello,” with a nod to my husband who returns the greeting and I feel a stiff, polite but unfeeling tight-lipped smile on my face while my eyes stay focused on the ground. We pass to cross the street and this man calls out, “Hey Nate!” to the corner dweller opposite him and I see him gesture something out of the corner of my eye. We keep walking. An hour and a half later, we cross that street again in the opposite direction, and the guys are gone.
That night in my warm bed, I thought about that guy on the corner. A flurry of feelings was running through me. I tried to define what made me uncomfortable in the brief moment our paths crossed that day. I’m pretty sure that first and foremost, I resented the fact that he was there on my date night, on a sunny spring afternoon during time that my hard-working husband and I set aside for one another. Recognizing that feeling made me angry at me. Who I am to feel inconvenienced by a guy on the street corner? Poor me, forced to contemplate homelessness when I was supposed to be having fun…
Then I thought about that feeling of disconnection between my head and my heart. My heart almost always tells me to offer assistance, help where I can. But my head tells me, “Be careful. Don’t encourage the panhandler. Giving out money is enabling not helping.” So, I’m conflicted. I’m pretty sure that’s what that tight-lipped look on my face was all about.
It makes me sad when I think about all that inner turmoil and conflict. All that stuff is about me. All that stuff holds me back and keeps me from connecting with another human being. Why does it matter if this guy is professional panhandler or not? He is still a person. If he says hello, I should look him in the eye.