This week has been a difficult one for me. I had to put my dog to sleep. It was incredibly expensive to do it the way I believed it needed to be done: at home, surrounded by everyone who loves her, feeling as happy as I could make her.
I found I couldn’t pay any of my bills after I spent all that money. I set up a Go Fund Me. I asked my friends for help.
And then I was accused by a friend of being “an Online Panhandler.”
Obviously, that hurt me. We don’t talk anymore. But, it also got me to question my own identity.
My first step was to see if there was any truth in the accusation. The best place to start was with the definition of the term. I looked it up.
To approach strangers and beg for money or food.
1. To approach and beg from (a stranger).
Now it’s worth questioning if that’s what I did. In how many ways do my actions fit that definition?
I left a message on my page. I wrote the following:
I suppose no one was thinking rationally last Friday when we had to put my dog, Melanie, to sleep. We didn’t question the cost. It had to be done; it had to be done immediately. It had to be done in our home where she was always her happiest. I couldn’t bring myself to take her to a Vet’s Office where they would lay her on a cold table. And I know I couldn’t have driven in the first place. I’m not sure whether my roommates could.
At Home Euthanasia turns out to be incredibly expensive. We paid it. We paid to get her ashes back. That was extra, and, from a financial point of view, it was a selfish choice. We made it. And now, as was entirely predictable, we can’t pay any of our bills. My paycheck came that day. So did my roommate’s. So we just spent the money. Perhaps it was foolish. I believe it was the right choice.
I did this to myself. I admit that. I am the one responsible for my decision.
Now, however, I’m reaching out for help. If you could help me offset the cost of the tragedy, I would be beyond grateful.
No one owes me a thing. I have asked for too much, too often, and I have no business whatever doing it again. And if no one chooses to help, I completely understand and respect that choice.
I made a financially irresponsible choice, when I decided to spend the money to bring Melanie’s life to the end I believe it deserved. It was peaceful. She was happy. She wasn’t afraid. She left this Earth feeling loved. That was worth more to me than any amount of money, and I would do the same thing again, even if it meant being here again. She meant the Universe to me.
Most of you have already given me the most valuable support I can get. You have been kind, you have offered advice, and you have sent love, hugs, condolences, and empathy. Those are infinitely more valuable than any number of the Little Green Pieces of Paper the world has decided determine one’s value.
But, if you’d like to help us exist a little while longer in the Green Pieces of Paper World, and you would like to send us a couple of them, it turns out we need them.
Thank you for all you have already done.
I also gave the link to the Go Fund Me campaign, and to my roommate’s PayPal account.
I didn’t approach anyone individually. I’ve done that before, though, too. Those who saw this message were either friends of mine, or they were people who were, for some reason, interested in what was on my page.
Having said that, I suppose in a wide enough reading of the term, I met the definition. I was, essentially, begging.
And that brings me to the more important point. Whether or not I’m a Panhandler, I would like to suggest that to be one is not always an insult.
When we were at Wal Mart last week, we saw a woman standing outside. She told us she was homeless, and she needed help. We invited her into the McDonald’s inside of Wal Mart, and we got her breakfast. She told us she was glad we helped her with food instead of money, because she’s an addict, and money represents a greater temptation for her to do things that will make her life briefly more pleasant, but in the long run will make her life somewhat briefer than it might have been otherwise.
It was hot. We have an extra bedroom. We have an old mattress since a friend of mine recently got me a new one. We could have invited her to come stay with us for a while. My heart desperately wanted to do that. She’s a human being. She needs some very basic help. We couldn’t, of course. That’s not the way the world works anymore. And I’m deeply sad about that. That’s a topic, however, for a future essay.
I’ve been thinking about her quite a bit since then. She never told us her name, but she looks like she might be an Erin, so that’s the name I’ll be using to refer to her.
How must it make Erin feel to be in a position that requires her to do that? I’m familiar with the contempt people feel toward Panhandlers and The Homeless. They should pull themselves up by their boot straps. They should get a job. They should never have done drugs. They shouldn’t have euthanized their dogs.
I don’t like that way of thinking. It runs counter to logic, facts, evidence, compassion, and decency. Why?
There are more job seekers than there are available jobs. For any position in America, there are a minimum of 3 applicants. That means, by definition, 2 people won’t get the job. What follows logically from that? There will be unemployed people. If people are unemployed, they have no money. Without money, they can’t provide the basics of living for themselves. If they can’t provide those basics alone, they have only 2 options.
- They can ask for help.
- They can die.
The logical choice is to ask for help, although it runs counter to our feeling that we need to take care of ourselves. After a certain age, we are supposed to be able to survive independently. If we can’t, people see us as somehow “less than.” To ask for help is logically correct, and emotionally devastating.
It takes longer to find a job than it once did.
In 2009, the Wall Street Journal noted that job seekers took longer to find work than since the Department of Labor began tracking in 1948. Now in 2013, the average job search takes 38 weeks or 60% longer. According to the Department of Labor there are over 3.9 million open jobs nationally. Why are so few jobs being matched to workers, if there are a record high number of open jobs?
“98% of job seekers are eliminated at the initial resume screening and only the Top 2% of candidates make it to the interview”, stated Robert Meier, President of Job Market Experts. “Fixing the employment market requires helping job seekers become Top 2% Candidates who can meet employer’s rigorous requirements and easily hit the “bulls-eye” of employer needs to ensure they don’t make bad hires,” continued Meier.
If one can’t get a job, and one can’t get help from the government, one is forced to ask help from others. 38 weeks is a long time to go without a job.
“In 2014 , 1.49 million people used homeless shelters and 578,424 were recorded as being without shelter: sleeping on the streets, in tents, in cars, and other exposed places. Cities completed the 2016 point-in-time count in January.”
How many of those are Panhandlers? I honestly don’t know. I searched, but was unable to find, a reliable source for the number of Panhandlers in America. If someone has such a source, and wanted to share it, I would be grateful.
I’m going to assume that, at some point or other, at least 500,000 people in America become Panhandlers. Some of them may do it professionally. I’m told that, in rare cases, some of them make as much as $80,000 a year. That’s a hell of a lot more than I make. It’s probably more than you make. If it’s not, send me some money, please. (Yes, that was a joke.)
But, the evidence suggests there are a large number of Panhandlers, and I don’t believe the vast majority of them are doing it because they want to.
There is the anecdotal evidence of those we encounter. My experiences with them have mostly been nice. I’m sure others have had negative experiences with them. There are good and bad people in any group.
Three Fast Facts About Panhandling
1. Only 3% of panhandlers don’t want some form of permanent housing that would help to get them off of the street.
2. 48% of panhandlers are African American.
3. 1 out of every 4 panhandlers in the United States has served in the military at some point in time.
The quality of mercy is not strained.The Merchant of Venice
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes
Previously, I have argued that The Value of a Person cannot be calculated by the number of little green pieces of paper that person is able, in whatever form, to collect.
If a person is alive, that person has a human right to certain basics. All living people deserve food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and the means to explore this life. This is an opinion that I hold deeply, and it would be difficult to convince me to change it. There are examples of people who may deserve to die because they have done something so heinous that they have forfeited the right to breathe. But such people are few and far between, and none of them makes the list simply for having an insufficient collection of money.
Am I an Online Panhandler?
This question reminds me of one Jimmy Smits had to answer in an episode of The West Wing. Alan Alda asked him if he was an Unthinking Liberal. He asked it in the same smug sort of way that the question about me being a Panhandler is asked. It assumes that being a Liberal or being a Panhandler is necessarily and obviously evil. This is their exchange:
Congressman Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits): I know you like to use that word ‘liberal’ as if it were a crime.
Senator Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda): No. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have used that word. I know Democrats think liberal is a bad word. So bad you had to change it. What do you call yourselves now, progressives? Is that it?
Santos: It’s true. Republicans have tried to turn liberal into a bad word. Well, liberals ended slavery in this country.
Vinick: A Republican President ended slavery.
Santos: Yes, a liberal Republican. What happened to them? They got run out of your party. What did liberals do that was so offensive to the Repubican party, Senator? I’ll tell you what they did. Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. What did Conservatives do? They opposed them on every one of those programs… every one. So when you try to hurl that label at my feet, ‘Liberal,’ as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won’t work, Senator, because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor.
– The West Wing
from the episode “The Debate” written by Lawrence O’Donnell
If you would like to watch the scene, you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqrG9N-cmds&t=3s
I’m not going to claim Panhandlers are as heroic as liberals, but I still see the same nobility in them that Billy Joel found when he was done being an Angry Young Man. “I’ve found that just surviving is a noble fight.”
I know that when someone calls me a Panhandler, they don’t mean it in a kind way. They are not being friendly toward me. I don’t feel insulted by the epithet, though.
I’m supposed to trade what I have that is of value in order to collect little green pieces of paper. I maintain I did. What I have that is of value is kind, loving, and compassionate people in my life. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. But I don’t believe any of you are in my life because I forced you to be. It’s a choice you made because there must be something in me that you value. There is certainly something in you that I value, or you wouldn’t be reading this. It may be your sense of humor, your ideological bent, the interests we share, the ideas we debate, or just that seeing your name popping up on my page makes me smile. It could be any of a billion or so things. But, I value you. And I believe you value me.
No one insists you donate your hard earned money to a Panhandler. You have every right to decide to ignore them completely. They have done nothing of any value to you. And, you may even resent them for not appearing to you to be working, and you know how hard you worked for what you have. You don’t need to pay for anyone but yourself.
What I would ask, though, is that you spare them your contempt. Please don’t give them your unsolicited opinion.
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
- Mark Twain (mostly)
Making someone else feel small does nothing to make you taller. It just makes you cruel. Let’s be Kind to one another whenever we can. It matters.