Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Shame on Us!

Yesterday, while I was walking downtown, I nearly collided with a woman who was coming towards me. She was walking quickly, and suddenly sped up even more while veering to her right, putting her directly in my path. I had to swerve to my right to avoid her, and as I did so, I looked to see what she was veering away from.

It was a man.

In fact, it was an Our Voice street vendor**. He was sitting, head hung low, eyes closed, and cross-legged in the shade in front of Starbucks, wearing a rather thick jacket on this very warm day. He had placed a coffee mug in front of him to hold any donations that he might receive for the Our Voice in his hands.

I wonder if he saw that woman avoid him. I wonder if he cared. I know I did. I thought, "Shame on that woman for being so rude! This is a human being!" Then I felt ashamed. I remembered all of the times that I also passed by the Our Voice vendors, too busy to stop and buy a copy of their paper, or too ready to make an excuse as to why I couldn't buy one that day. I remembered all of the times that I avoided eye contact with these folks so that I could walk on by without feeling like a total heel.

Well, I didn't walk on by this day. I dug into my Lululemon bag, grabbed my wallet, and rummaged for some change. All I had was a paltry $1.05. Embarrassed by the meagre amount that I had to give, I hesitated slightly before bending down low to meet this fellow at eye level. I dropped the change into his cup, and said to him, "May I have a copy of that?," pointing to the Our Voice in his hand. He looked up and opened his eyes, and he smiled at me with his stained and crooked teeth. Nodding slightly, he handed me the paper and said, "Thank you. God bless you!"

I straightened up and began to walk away, my new purchase in hand and me feeling momentarily self-satisfied at my grand gesture of kindness. Then I felt ashamed once more, knowing that I was actually no different (and no better) than that woman, and if it hadn't been for her rude and abrupt behaviour, I probably would not have stopped for him either. I wondered if I would stop the next time I saw an Our Voice vendor. I wondered if my choice to give the next time would be based on the abundance of blessing in my life, or on a sense of guilt and obligation? In the end, do I really have a heart for the needy and the lost, or am I just appeasing my own conscience when I buy a paper? What should motivate me to buy these inner-city publications?

I looked at the Our Voice in my hands and found an answer to my own question. The topic of this issue? People are worth it.

**Our Voice vendors are individuals who actually purchase these publications from the Bissell Center, and who sell them for a small profit to try to become more self-reliant, as well as raise awareness about poverty issues. The vendors usually pay $0.50 - $0.60 per paper, and the average donation ranges from $1.00 - $2.00.