Got mugged on the way home last night. No violence involved. Just blindsided by a young man with good theatrical skills and a story.
I was almost home, thinking of dropping into the corner grocer for a tub of Kawartha Dairy ice cream. A luxury purchase I thought. Money is tight these days. Every purchase gets run through a little expense rationalization process. It causes me to be thankful that I have choices to make. These decisions are like slowly savouring the taste of a good soup when hungry. So good to have choices.
“Hey bud,” I heard a call and turned to see a young guy, twenty-something. He was neatly dressed – clean-shaven. My “come-on” sensors hummed to life and I prepared my usual friendly “not today”.
This guy had an innocence about him and a bright enthusiasm unusual among panhandlers. He was a con-man. Not your average beggar. He gave me his story.
“Are you from around here?” he was establishing a rapport like a good salesman – interested first in the customer (it’s not just about the sale).
“Do you know where Lakefield is?” he asked. And when I said I did, he told me he was from Nephton, another twenty minutes past there. “My girlfriend and I were shopping at WalMart and my truck died. The tow-truck driver wouldn’t take us home because of my 220 lb Saint Bernard.”
“I’ve been walking around downtown here for an hour and no one will trust me. You’re the first guy to even listen this long.” That was a good hook. Made me feel special. I like to think my compassion is a little better than the average guy’s.
“So, I gotta get home so I can work tomorrow. I’ve got $28 but I need another $32 for a cab-ride home.”
“Good story,” I told him. I thought of all the times I’d been conned. I thought of the young guys who’d taught me – when I’d stayed at the Sally Ann shelter - such stories to use at the church door. A favourite was “I just got home off the night shift and my wife tells me we’re out of diapers.”
I wanted to believe this guy. What if what he was saying was true? What if – by believing him – this young man’s faith in humanity might be restored? What if – even if he was conning me – my willingness to be conned patched up a bit of the gaping hole in his own soul?
What did I have to lose? Would my faith and trust be damaged? At this stage in life - where my prime is somewhere back behind me – I’ve got few illusions to lose about human nature. I know that appearances have little to do with honesty. No, what I was dealing in here was a choice.
Did I believe him? No. But would I choose to believe him?
Did I trust him? No. But would I choose to trust him?
What this young man was trading on was my willingness to take a chance - to believe in the possibility of a stranger in need being aided out of the blue by an open heart.
My heart is not usually so open. Walking down George Street back and forth from work I get asked for handouts almost every time. I almost never hand it over. Tonight though, something different had happened. I’d been offered a drink by a stranger.
I’d stopped outside a pub to catch a bit of live music through the glass doors. A guy leaning on a cane, having a smoke, invited me in. He told me, “people in there are different”. When I asked what he meant, he said, “these people have a soul”. Sounds like this guy’s found his church I thought.
(Do you believe in angels? That chance meetings can bump us off course to affect a string of circumstances played down the road and out of sight?)
A little further down I spied a pub owner sitting lonely in his window. I gave Dave a wave and kept going. Too focused on home to stop and chat and warm up with a bit of human kinship.
Two blatant chances to just be a human being. And now a third chance. How many times can I keep to myself what god’s given and not lose it?
So I took the guy home, found my wallet, and even drove him back uptown to where he said his girlfriend was waiting.
I did it for me I guess. I listened to his assurances that he was going to pay me back. I gave him the pen he asked for. He wrote down his name and address and my address and phone number. I never once let myself believe that he would come through. He told me he was a Christian and offered to show me the tattoos. He told me he would take my favour and “Pay it forward”.
These were all good words. Words to bank on. How different were these words from what I speak into the world Sunday mornings? People take the words I offer and use them as fuel for another week. Unbelievable words. Unbelievable stories. They choose to believe. They listen for what they want to hear. They hand over money hoping it’s going to make a difference.
This guy and I were in the same business. Selling hope that maybe there’s more in this world than human nature at work. He was offering me an opportunity to play a part in a Bible story today.
I chose to give without expectation of its return. I chose to purchase my soul for just $40. Seemed a bargain.
Driving home I was swamped with regrets. I thought of all the other ways that money could have been spent. So many, many worthy causes. My children’s needs. Friends struggling. All things I tell myself “there isn’t enough to go around” for. And here I’ve let this crack-addict talk me out of the pennies I’ve been pinching.
I thought of all the opportunities I’d had to say to no. I thought of ways I could have double-checked his story – or seen through it. I thought I’d just handed him a quick hit, a fix, what he needed to get through the night…
Before turning in and letting the day go - I apologized to Lynn. We’re sharing our incomes and encouraging each other to scrimp for the things that matter. She puts her hand on my heart and says, “better an open heart willing to be broken again than a broken heart safely shut closed”.