Ignore the Beggar

Six years ago, I was walking across the border between Belize and Nicaragua with a 3 and 5 year old in tow. As rain started to come down in torrents, I shelled out some coins to hire a rickshaw driver to shuttle my family and backpacks the rest of the way while I ran beside them.

Halfway across the border zone, we were detoured to an Ebola testing station where we each had to have our temperatures taken. I paced nervously as my son had a thermometer put against his forehead when I clearly knew that he was sick with fever. In a moment of quick eye contact, the official looked at me knowingly and quickly decided to just move us along.

With stamps in our passport we were shuffled out into a bustling parking lot and bombarded by taxi drivers. Trying to keep track of my kids and belongings while listening to fares being shouted out me, a man tugged on my shirt. I ignored him. He was dressed in rags, bloody and bandaged. He kept tugging. I ignored him. I brought my kids in closer and directed them into the nearest car, a dilapidated grey sedan. The loud street noise dulled as we sat in the car and the man stood tapping on the glass. As we drove away my daughter asked me the question that I never forgot.

In her world, there was only one thing that mattered and that was the bloodied man asking for money. Experience, time and age has a way of dulling our senses. It can make us numb to the pain and hurting that we see around us. At times, we might even be tempted to blame others for their misfortune and feel anger towards those who inconvenience us with requests of money. It is easy to become indifferent and put up barriers. These barriers are like emotional shields so we do not have to admit how easily our places might be exchanged if we just grew up in the wrong family, lived in the wrong area, made the wrong choices, fell to addictions or had less social support.

I found it striking that this memory was the first thing staring me down during a quick morning scroll through Facebook. This is Black Friday. It is the day where so many people go crazy over retail deals and buy frivolous things they do not need. It is the day our retail business, Wilderness Supply, chooses to be closed in the face of retail pressure, to volunteer our time at the Main Street Project, a local shelter that provides food and beds to those who have none.

This memory came on a morning when I was on my way to pick up $1,000 worth of food we had just bought to deliver to the shelter. As I read my daughter’s words, tears welled up in my eyes and I realized that this little girl had taught me so much in that one moment. Over the years, we have done many things to lend a hand to those less fortunate. It did not start with those words on a warm November day in Nicaragua but what I realized is that we should not help only when convenient, or when we need a little ego boost to feel like a good person but we need to help because it is necessary. There are so many who need a hand and many of us are so fortunate to have had the right things in place to put us where we are. This little girl reminded me to treat people with dignity.

I am indeed proud of our team for closing our stores in protest of Black Friday and unnecessary consumerism but more importantly I am just glad we could be a small part in supporting our community and the amazing staff at the Main Street Project who care so deeply about every human who comes through their door.

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