‘Bout time for another blogpost, eh, chaps and chapettes? Righto, then.
Yesterday I went to Kinkos and Econoprint, which are both down on Colorado, about 4.5 miles away. Disney Consumer Products has been patiently waiting for about a month while I scramble to get my portfolio across the country, and then make prints of all of my work (because if I interview with them, I have to take my portfolio and then *gasp* leave it there with them). Making fancy art prints is expensive, but fortunately, making copies is not. I wanted to try out the local shop (Econoprint) as well as Kinkos for this project. I have to say- I have been incredibly impressed with the new Kinkos down near Pasadena City College. The service is excellent, and there’s usually only one guy behind the counter, juggling five people’s copy needs, faxes, passport photos, business cards that need to be resized on the computer, answering the phone, etc., while never forgetting to address customers as “sir” and “ma’am”. They can also print on the paper I bring in (even if it isn’t compatible with laser printers…oops), rather than forcing me to use whatever paper they have available. The guys at Econoprint were also very pleasant, but less polished, and…unfortunately, I wasn’t as pleased with their print quality, which is pretty much the most important thing. A bunch of them (middle-aged dudes) gathered around as flipped through my work explaining what I wanted. That was encouraging :) They, as well as the guy at Kinkos, see a lot of artwork I’m sure, but at both places I received some really nice compliments.
For some reason the idea of going through with this whole trip really made me nervous. There’s a certain amount of being proactive involved, which is something I struggle with. I mean, I had to measure each piece in my portfolio, cut paper for it to be printed on, put some digital images on a cd (after checking their sizes and making pdfs of all of them), figure out which bus I was going to take, and where and when, haul my portfolio two and a half miles, ride the bus, interact with people for two hours (feeling vulnerable while they saw my work and nervous while they handled it), catch the bus back, and walk two and a half miles back home. And now I have to email the guy at Disney to let him know that I am ready for my interview. Maybe it doesn’t sound like much, but it was tiring!
This morning I walked to Whole Foods and back. It was a weird experience. Good weird, definitely. I was “confronted” by three people, all within WF’s little plaza. First, a man sitting at a table right outside the store raising money for something relating to children’s health…I actually don’t remember what the cause was, exactly. He asked if I’d like to donate…I shook my head and said “no thanks”. Then there was an elderly woman who, as I was walking by, asked if I would give her some money so she could find a place to sleep that night. She was in her eighties, I’m sure. She wasn’t dressed in rags, and her pale blue eyes gazed into mine as I mumbled an apology and walked past. They looked frightened. I headed over to Trader Joe’s in a daze, probing the wounds in my conscience, testing the hurt I’d caused it by passing those people by. The woman struck me the most, and I resolved to return to Whole Foods on my way, and give her some of my money, and maybe some food, too. In addition to the couple other things I got from TJ’s, I grabbed a few bananas. Then I walked back. I had $7 in my pocket- 5 for the woman and 2 for the guy at the table. I started thinking seriously now.
The first thoughts to enter my mind were “what would Jesus do?” Seriously. This poor little phrase has been over-used and abused into oblivion, but it is always an excellent question to ask yourself in whatever you do or think about doing. In this case, I have no doubt that Jesus would have taken her to get a sandwich, then called a cab to take her to his home, offering that she could stay as long as she needed. Not to mention providing for her spiritual needs as well. My five bucks and a banana were hardly an offering, by comparison. I felt bad for the guy sitting at the little table outside of WF as well- I don’t know why, and maybe I’m quite mistaken, but it seems like that would be a horrible way to spend an afternoon. WF emits this aura of help for the community, and a lot of people shop there because they think that they’re helping little families in Nicaragua and saving the planet’s resources. You don’t even have to change any of your daily habits; no effort whatsoever is required. And then you walk outside and brush off the man asking for donations to a charity and glide by the elderly lady asking for a few dollars as though she doesn’t even exist. We get really excited about helping those families thousands of miles away, even feel a little tug at our heartstrings when we see a picture of smiling faces accompanying the product we buy…and then in nearly the same stride push away the poor on our own doorstep. I almost did that exact thing today. I felt good about buying flour from the bulk bins because I learned from The Omnivore’s Dilemma that the less processed a food is, the more profit the farmer who produced its wheat/corn/etc. components will see. And then I almost ignored the plea for help from someone in my own town.
Ignoring my conscience would have only strangled it of power in future scenarios, and that is the last thing I want. I want my conscience to bleed and my heart to break when I see someone in need. I don’t care how they spend the couple of dollars I hand them- even if they use it to buy alcohol, their sin would not be as great as mine if I judge them and deny them a mere few dollars’ assistance.
So I returned to WF after going to TJ’s, and she was still there. She recognized me as I walked toward her down the sidewalk, and I waved shyly. Handed her the money, and offered a banana. She refused the banana, but accepted the cash gratefully. "God bless you," she said. "Done," I thought to myself. I quickly handed the guy at his table the two dollars. On my way back up toward home, a man I had passed on the way down was still sitting at the bus stop with a cart of his belongings(?) next to him. He asked me if I’d buy him a soda. I told him I had some bananas, did he want one? “Yeah,” he replied. I gave him two.
I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that several people would jump to my assistance if I needed help paying rent or loans. I am well taken care of. I don’t know if they have anyone to take care of them. It would have been easy for me to ignore them all and forget about them. But they’re real, actual people, and they don’t vanish from existence as soon as they pass from my field of vision. In a way, that scares me- the man at the bus stop and the elderly lady in front of WF- where will they sleep tonight? The elderly lady- will she be safe? Will she be cold? It’s hard thinking about these things, which is probably why I’ve never really let myself do so before. But still, I’ll probably mull over these things for the rest of the day, before going to sleep and then forget about them in the business and activity of my weekend. They won’t forget their situation- they have to live it every second of every day.
I wrestled with the idea of posting all of this. But…I dunno. I guess I was hoping to make it an exhortation to care about the people around you who have nothing, at least as far as finances go. Whatever we do, we shouldn’t judge them. It’s like that story about the hundreds of starfish that were washed up onto shore, and even though it was hopeless to save all of them, to the ones that were saved and lived, it meant life. How much more so with our fellow (wo)man! And though a couple of dollars probably won’t make much of a difference in their lives overall, at least it might ease the sting of poverty for one day. Right now, I think that’s enough.