27 August, 2015. Ragusa, Sicily.
I almost felt that I had gone to the supermarket with the express purpose of buying her groceries.
I had just gone the day before, after all, and didn’t really need anything. I only went because I told Roberto—my new acquaintance who magically (creepily) appeared around every corner—that I was heading to the store so I wouldn’t have to get coffee.
Once I wandered off in that direction, I figured I might as well stop in for bread.
And there she was, standing by the door in what looked like a maid’s uniform—but what do I know? And I knew before I even approached that she would ask me for food and I would ask her what she wanted to eat.
What I didn’t expect was for her to come with me into the store and select a full basket of groceries. Meat and meat and some vegetables and more meat. I get it. If I had two perennially hungry kids and a stranger was offering to buy me food, I’d go for the meat too.
I didn’t say anything, of course. Not that I wanted to; I had committed. Besides, I am trying to focus on sharing abundance (my friend’s term, which I have adopted), and in the scheme of things the 21 euro total was nothing.
Furthermore, I firmly believe that when someone asks for help it’s up to them to dictate what kind of help they want. It’s up to me—or a foundation, non-profit or philanthropic individual—to say yes or no.
I don’t particularly like to share (unless I’m cooking, in which case you had better clear your plate), and I wouldn’t call myself, “naturally generous.” And so I find myself making a conscious effort to be more giving.
If someone asks, I say yes. Not categorically—I’m not bottomless—but when it’s possible.
She waited while I checked out, and when I handed her the heavy bag of groceries, her face was inscrutable.
I don’t know what it’s like to need to ask for food, so I won’t even hazard a guess at what was inside her head. I don’t know what it’s like to have hungry children to feed.
Maybe the hungry children were a lie, the cynics will argue.
Indeed, my friends, maybe they were. But who am I to decide what is truth and what is construct? Undoubtedly, begging is often an organized business, the instruments of which (the beggars) see precious little material gain. But who am I to refuse food when someone asks for it? How could I judge the difference between a professional and a mother?
I couldn’t, and so I give what I can and hope it does some good.
As I walked away, my feelings, too, were inscrutable. I don’t know if that was “the right thing.” We can never know if others’ stories are true. But in the end, it doesn’t matter at all. I don’t need to know why or who or how come.
As someone in a position to give—with the opportunity to cultivate generosity—I may say yes, or I may say no.
I want to say yes.
As I walked away, I felt somewhat uncomfortable—clumsy in my efforts. But at least I’m trying.
Should we all give food to strangers when they ask? That’s really not for me to say, either. All I know is that in my effort to become more generous, unquestioningly giving when and what I’m asked for (within reason) has proven itself a powerful tool.
Author: Toby Israel
Photo: Alexander Satubo/Flickr