Doing the Best we Can

Driving home in the rain, Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, finds a homeless person in rush hour traffic.

Driving home from picking up the pizza & wings takeout my son ordered for our dinner, I passed a girl standing on the corner with a sign that said HOMELESS and HUNGRY. Just then the light turned red. So I was stuck next to her for what seemed like hours. I could barely look at her. Was it her shame or mine that kept me staring blankly ahead in the stopped traffic? Alone, by the crammed street during rush hour, the girl was about the age of my daughter who died. I wanted to hug her, take her home and feed her. If the box of wings had not been stashed, unreachable, in the trunk of the car, I would have shoved it out the window and into her arms. Instead I avoided her eyes and turned, as soon as I could, onto the busy street beyond her. My own eyes filled with tears.

These days it doesn’t take much to make me crumble, crying. But what does it take to stand on a corner announcing to the world that you are desperate? I wondered. What had this girl lost? Did she have some safe warm place to go to at the end of the day? What would happen when it rained or snowed? Did she have a mother? Did the mother know where her daughter was?
“Mom, there’s a bunch of them. They live together and take shifts holding the sign,” my son said. Yes, I’d seen them before. I’d scorned the disheveled young men with their attitudes of entitlement, laziness, and lack of ambition or self-worth.

Currently reading Brene Brown’s book RISING STRONG, the part that suggests we give each other a break because maybe we’re all doing the best we can, I decided to return to the corner with a Wegmans gift card. I would let this girl know that someone cared. But that was later, after I’d gone home and found I could not get her out of my mind. First I allowed myself the small joy of sharing pizza and wings with my son. We’d both been through hell. That’s why I knew I had to find the girl again. Because, who knows what she’d been through before getting stuck on that corner.

 

What aggravates you and yet grabs your sympathies? Do you believe most people are doing the best they can? Are you doing the best you can?

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12 thoughts on “Doing the Best we Can

  1. Franklin Crawford

    Sadly too many of these people in town are working in groups doing their best to look pitiful, then pooling the money at the end of the day, renting a motel rent and partying. I don’t think many of these people are homeless except by choice and if they want food and lodgings, Ithaca provides a smorgasbord of options. Don’t get gamed by the groups downtown who do this for a living. It’s a crappy way to make a make but I did some investigative reporting on a handful of these people are they are, again, sadly, addicts who are working in teams. Yes, right here in tiny town. I don’t give anyone a penny any more who doesn’t prove beyond a cardboard sign that they have any business interfering with my day for a handout. A few questions usually reveals the scam. For instance: “Would you like a ride to Social Services? Would you like to join me for lunch” Invariably the answer is no. They don’t want services and they don’t want your food, they want your money. Like I said, it’s a lousy way to make a living, but I’ve know of a couple people who were pocketing a couple hundred bucks a day. There are genuine people in need. They do not have the stamina to stand in the rain at strip mall exits begging. If that’s a hard truth to buy into, you don’t have to. And if you find that girl Robin, check her out closely, any signs of anemia, what kinds of jeans are they wearing? Are their clothes of decent second hand quality? Ask them if they smoke? How do they afford to smoke if they can’t get enough money for food? I’ve been watching a certain group fleece innocent good heart people for too long to not say something. Go ask the cops if you don’t believe me. This note is not vindictive but meant to protect my friends from this pack of thieves. “Ithaca’s soft,” I heard one of them say. “It’s like Mayberry RFD.” Don’t be fooled.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Lately I’ve been practicing looking, Franklin. Looking into people’s eyes has always been difficult for me. But what has recently made it easier is my telling myself that each person I encounter is doing the best he or she can with what they have to work with. After half a century walking around not trusting folks, I now try to give them the benefit of my doubt. It doesn’t matter if someone “games” me for my $7 Wegmans card. The feeling of knowing I did something in good heart to help another is precious. And maybe, just maybe, the recipient of my small gift will feel cared-for for a moment. And to me, that’s the important thing. Even if it’s a scammer, I have tried to be true to the humane being I aspire to be. Some of them will fool me. And there will be some for whom another being reaching out in kindness will be the warmth and encouragement of their day. I wish you peace and warmth for the holidays, Franklin, you ole goat. Good to find you here on my site instead of on YouTube and Facebook all the time. Hugs.

      Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thank you for responding, Monica. And welcome to my site. I’m so thrilled you found me. We have so much in common. Our young warriors would have been great friends. And as we travel similar paths discovering and shaping our changing lives, I hope that you and I can become friends. Cheers!

      Reply
  2. Elaine Mansfield

    I see them, too. Sometimes I hand out $1 or sometimes $5. A gift card is a better idea. I think the best gift is the hardest for me: looking people in the eye and acknowledging they exist and that we are both ashamed. I’m practicing that one.
    Thanks so much, Robin. I’ll buy a few $5 gift cards to keep in my car and remember you when I hand them on to people standing out in bad weather with inadequate clothes. In India, I handed clothing out taxi windows and fresh fruit. Things beggers can’t afford. It’s heartbreaking to acknowledge this need exists. Even if it’s sometimes a hoax, as many claim, I wonder who would want to put themselves in this position.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I, too, have to practice this, looking into people’s eyes and acknowledging their situation, my own, and all the accompanying emotions. You are so right in that it would be the best gift. Meanwhile, I’m keeping Wegmans gift cards in my bag and reminding myself to look in people’s eyes. This has always been difficult for me but I’m still reading Brene Brown’s RISING STRONG and it really helps to keep saying, “this person is doing his/her best.” I even find myself smiling at folks when I have that in my mind. Cheers, Elaine.

      Reply
  3. Lynne Taetzsch

    Robin, thanks for this powerful reminder that we are all connected and all struggling to do the best we can. I applaud your courage and compassion in returning with the Wegman’s gift card.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Well, I’ve given out 2 gift cards so far but haven’t been able to find the girl again. I’m keeping hers in my purse although I’m kinda hoping she took a bus to visit her parents for the holidays. In my mind I’ve invented a whole story about who she is and how she came to that corner. And since fiction isn’t my forte, MY homeless girl comes from Long Island and is angry with her family that expects too much of her and …. Well, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to control your world with fiction. Back to reality where there’s never enough compassion. Cheers, Lynne. And happy holidays.

      Reply
  4. Lucy Bergstrom

    This post hits home, as we are forced to take on the misery of the world through refugee crises, natural catastrophes, mass shootings all more frequent and the homeless who look us in the eyes. We need to grant all these sad existences that they are trying to do their best, they are coping. A good way to think about it is: if the waitress is rude to you, cut her some slack- she might have a two-year old!
    I hope the homeless person on duty when you next passed their corner was pleased with your gift card.
    Love, Lucy

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      What’s really amazing about considering that the grumpy waitress, or the grimy guy who looks like he needs a bath, or whoever I run into is doing their best, is that it’s gotten me to look at their faces – yes, venture up into their eyes for a nano-second. And it’s gotten me SMILING at people, the ones I wouldn’t ordinarily even look at. Not sure I understand this phenomenon yet. Really weird to find myself smiling so much. And weirder still is how good it feels to smile. ?
      Cheers, Lucy. I have my gift-card for the homeless and hungry girl tucked away in my purse. She wasn’t there when I got back to the corner. But I won’t forget her.

      Reply
  5. Robert

    This is probably one of your best posts, it hits home especially at Christmas time.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thanks, Bob. It did hit home. I’m still trying to find that homeless girl. I keep hoping that maybe she’s taking a bus back home to her folks on Long Island or something. For the holidays. really gets to me that people are homeless over holidays. And here I am with a home but hardly any people. Good thing my son is here or I might be having house-guests. Have great holidays.

      Reply

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