One girl’s struggle to give away her money
By Rowan Hornbeck
It was one of the hottest days in July in downtown South Bend, IN and I was just trying to get to my car in the parking garage so I could go home for my hour lunch. I’d taken to walking with my key between my knuckles, occasionally checking for someone behind me when I walked to my car. It could have just been paranoia, but I considered it survival instinct. Don’t talk to strangers, stay away from people who talk to things that aren’t there, don’t give money to the homeless because they’re lying to you. That’s how I was raised.
On my brisk march to my car, a man caught my eye. I kept walking but he followed, shouting after me, holding out a wallet. For a minute I thought he thought it was mine. I paused and let him catch up to me.
He opened the wallet and hurriedly started telling me who he was before I could get away. He was a veteran and had been sleeping under a bridge. He had hemorrhoids. He was in pain. He just needed ten dollars for bus fare to a shelter a few towns away.
I nodded along to everything he was saying and contorted my eyebrows in concern, all the while trying to figure out how I was going to get away from this guy. I genuinely wondered if I had any cash on me, but didn’t trust him enough not to rob me and didn’t even bother to check before telling him I had nothing. I settled on a compromise because he seemed trust worthy enough for that. I told him I was going home for lunch (true) and that I would bring him some cash when I came back (also true) because I didn’t have any on me at the time (false). He asked me how long I’d be because he needed to catch the bus. I told him I’d only be thirty minutes (false).
When I sat down in my car I opened my wallet and found ten dollars in cash. I’d had it with me the whole time. I could have helped him right away, but I didn’t trust him enough to open my purse in front of him. I couldn’t just forget about it though. I drove home, determined to come back. I told him I would come back. I was going to keep my word.
But he wasn’t there.
When I walked out of the parking garage after my lunch, he was gone. I searched the side street, the soda sweating in my bag and a sick feeling gathering in my chest. He had left because he didn’t believe I was going to come back. I felt a sticky sort of guilty gathering in my gut because I felt like I had lied to him. He didn’t trust me. The tables had turned.
Trust falls require two people. One to fall and one to catch, and both people have to trust one another for the exercise to work. I felt hurt and guilty when he didn’t trust me to come back, but I realized that he must feel that all the time. I didn’t trust him enough to pull my wallet out in front of him. I didn’t trust him enough to feel confident he wasn’t lying about his situation. What would it feel like to really need something, but not be trusted enough for anyone to help you? How many times had I lied and told someone I didn’t have any cash? How many other people had told him they had nothing? How many other people hadn’t come back?
Whether I had gotten the chance to give him the money or not, I was never going to find out if he was telling the truth. Maybe he would have used the money to get where he needed to go, maybe that money would get him the treatment he needed, maybe it would save his life, but maybe it wouldn’t. What did I really have to lose though?
I never saw him again. I kept looking for him through the rest of the day. Maybe he made it to the shelter after all. Maybe someone else gave him the money he needed. Maybe he was lying. Either way, he knew that I hadn’t trusted him, and I knew that he didn’t trust me and so neither of us had the chance to impact one another’s lives.
I still walk past people asking for money and help without giving them a second glance. Social interaction is a trust exercise, and maybe it’s time I learned to trust.