Inner City Diary
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Why should I give you my money?
April 14, 2002
I've occasionally given change to buskers and sometimes even to panhandlers. But it really ticks me off when people don't ask - they demand.

It was about 5:30 one morning last week when I left my house to walk to the church. Just after leaving my home a gangly guy in his early 20's angles toward me on the sidewalk. He saunters up to me and says, “Hey, I need some money. Give me some money.” No question! Just a demand!

I was sleepy but not stupid. I told him I didn't have any money for him. I did have some change in my pocket. But I had a plan for that little bit of money and it didn't include him.

He leaned forward and said, “What do you mean? Give me some money!” I couldn't believe it. I figure this guy didn't look sleepy (more like he was up all night), but he was sure acting stupid.

I repeated my line and he repeated his - again. By this time I'm a little frustrated, so I figured I'd try to explain more plainly. “There are two ways I can answer you - 'yes' and 'no.' And I'm telling you 'no.' I have no money I will give you.”

For a split second I averted my stare from his eyes to the bag of chips in his hand. He caught the look and responded, “I know I just spent some of my money on chips. But that's my problem. Just give me some of your money.”

At that point I just shook my head and walked away.

It's always bugged me when people demand what's not theirs. I know people who have money, but I would never demand that they give me some - no matter how good the cause.

I had a paper route in New York City as a kid. It was hard delivering papers, but even harder reminding folks what they owed and then actually collecting the money. On one of the collection days, an older guy approached me on the street. He showed me a knife and told me to give him my money.

I was a scrawny, shy kid. I wasn't particularly brave. But I guess I was more afraid of facing my employer empty handed than of this guy with the knife.

Without much of a pause, I asked the guy, “What do you need it for?” I figure he was so surprised by my response that he actually answered the question. “To get some food and make it back downtown.”

Reaching into my collection bag, I pulled out a five dollar bill, gave it to him, and told him to “Take it easy.” He actually said “Thanks,” and left me alone.

More recently, I was called by one of our teenage parishioners to let me know that a guy had just demanded and received his wallet with $15. Mad that someone would mug a friend, I asked him to get in my van with his mom and we cruised around, looking for the guy so we could get the money back.

When we couldn't find the dirtbag, I suggested that we visit the nearest place a thief would have gone with pocket change. We went to the nearest crack house, just across the back lane. It was late in the evening and noisiest in the back, so I went and knocked on the back door. The dealer answered the door and, knowing who I was, came out to chat with us.

We gave him a description of the mugger and let him know how upset we were. We asked if the mugger was inside the house. He said no, but he thought he might know who it is and would “talk” to him.

Then the drug dealer did something else that really surprised us. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a wad of bills and peeled off two ten dollar bills. He told us he felt bad about what happened and wanted to help. I turned to the teen who had been mugged. It would be his judgment call.

This teen said, “No, I won’t take your money, cause it’s not mine. But thanks anyway.”

I wish more people thought like that!
Copyright 2002
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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lehotsky@escape.ca