“I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.” – – Anne Frank
I don’t say this to enhance a sense of self-aggrandizement, but I have in fact given money to people on freeway ramps and elsewhere a number of times. There are however, two times that stand out to me, one of which continues to make me a bit hesitant to “participate.” One Christmas Eve I was feeling terribly lonely and went for a drive around midnight. In Roseville, I saw a woman standing by an entrance to Highway 36 and stopped to flip her a twenty dollar bill. My heaviness lifted upon hearing her repeated gratitude. The other time I saw a young man in a parking lot at Whole Foods and gave him a dollar. After he said “thanks” quickly, he added “You know, two would have been better.” He left it at that when I advised him that a third option was for me to flag down the policeman standing about 50 feet away from us. That one left a foul taste with me. So I was a bit surprised at how engaged I became with a family of five Romanians I encountered at a Cub entrance a few weeks ago.
It’s always heartbreaking to me to see people holding a sign at the side of the road and noticing that they have small children with them. My first inclination was to drive right by on this day, but my car suddenly took a turn into a fast-food parking lot and I brought the family back a few burgers and drinks. As I drove away the sight of this beautiful little girl who couldn’t have been more than 3 years old stuck with me: a “slider” in her little hands looked like a massive burger. I wondered when the last time was that she had anything to eat. As I drove away I really tried to ignore that strong compulsion to go back and strike up a conversation, but it just wouldn’t leave me alone. I parked my car nearby and walked up to the father of the family, a small notebook in my hand. I told him that I’m a writer and asked him if I could “interview” him. After assuring him that what I wrote was not for public consumption (and that my last post got a whopping 7 hits) he agreed. They are a family of gypsies. Getting the courage to beyond my naivete’ I asked him just what was going on in Romania that caused them to migrate. As I later found out through some research, gypsies have been persona non grata in Romania for centuries. Hence the trek to America in 2016, not knowing at the time of course what the outcome of our presidential election would be. He is waiting for a work visa and in the interim told me that he has occasionally taken work “under the table,” which always comes with the built in risk of the employer not paying him. He of course has no recourse. The one time he reported the employer to the police, he learned very quickly not to do so again: he luckily ran his complaint by a kindly police officer who said he wouldn’t take any action against my Romanian friend, but that there was really nothing he would be able to do legally to collect his wages. And so it was that I ran into him on his first day of panhandling. I do truly feel empathy for anyone who is homeless, and this has been amplified by the fact that I’ve been a hair away from being homeless myself two times within the last two or three years. This instance made me feel particularly handcuffed and made the immigrant situation much more personal. I wished my young friend and his family well and went on my way, having stopped by three times in the afternoon to chat and offer some comfort. They are still with me.
I was graced with further irony when in a moment of boredom I flicked on my television (a few days later) to a syndicated police show. The topic of the episode? Gypsies and the ridicule their children can be forced to endure. Just writing this now is bringing some of the heaviness back, a heaviness that I’ve learned really doesn’t do anyone any good, including the family or myself. As noted in several different of my favorite metaphysical publications, when I think of this family it is best to imagine them only in the highest regard, or highest “light,” I guess. And I do wish only the best for them. I assured the young Romanian father that I would stop again if I saw him “hopefully around another payday.” He was quite gracious in his thanks. I did not know they came from Romania. I did not know they are gypsies. I didn’t notice their race or their lifestyle preference. They just struck me as a family going through a down time and having the courage to ask for help. I know that anyone can stand at a corner and run a scam. I remember being a regular at an AA meeting in my first year of sobriety, and a guy repeatedly walking through and disrupting the meeting in his drunken stupor. He was intentionally trying to be disruptive. One day when someone finally corralled him for a conversation, he advised that he was unemployed but the previous year had managed to rake in $35,000.00 panhandling. This was in 1989. Whether or not that’s true, it just reminds that those on street corners are in various states of distress, and yes, some may just flat out be phonies. No matter. The best I can serve myself (and them) is to think the best of them. Even my $35,000 buddy was only reaching out for help in the only way he knew how. Tragically, the direction this administration is taking the handling of immigration, many are being forced to go back into the unimaginably threatening situations they tried to escape. All of this goes without saying, I know, but I hadn’t felt it so closely until I met my Romanian friends. The television show I watched painted a bleak picture of the ridicule and ultimate murder of a helpless young child. This was a television show. The possible consequences of going back home my friend told me about didn’t sound like they were scripted by a Hollywood screen writer. They sounded like a living hell.
I’ve read a few times the last few years that if even a penny on the sidewalk shows itself that one can take it as a sign that “everything is going my way.” The suggestion is to count even the smallest things as blessings until the thought of adversity looks very different and less restrictive – in fact the objective is to look at everything in the world as a stepping stone. No adversity. It is a welcome feeling emotionally to fancy such things even for a minute. It was made easier for me when not long after speaking with my Romanian family, I went for a run and shortly into it happened upon a bunch of coins at a street corner. A “reward” possibly for taking some time out for someone less fortunate. I wasn’t done yet. I ran by a lovely young woman who shouted after me when I ran past her “You’re cute!” (A reminder I guess, that there are still plenty of women who drink in the early afternoon) And finally, a feather on the sidewalk, which I unfailingly take as a statement of angelic presence. I felt it indeed. The parents I met struck as genuinely caring, and as a couple who brought their kids over to this country in the hope of a better, safer future. I can look at is as unfortunate that they picked the current administration to plot and execute their move. Another way of looking at it is that the miracles waiting to be rained on them may just be proportionate to the obstacles they seem to be facing currently. I prefer to think the latter. I was comforted by the father telling me that for the evening at least, they had a motel to stay in. And the image of a beautiful young child munching on a burger with a look on her face of intense pleasure. I wished that every thought of hers going forward would bring her closer to heaven. And then I remembered: she’s already there.