the kindness of strangers

Leaving work today, a woman asked me for $4. She said she was from Winnipeg and they were short money to pay for parking. Quite frankly, she had me at “from Winnipeg” but I’ve long been annoyed by the high cost of hospital parking. So, basically, I was giving this woman $4.

First, a small side rant on hospital parking. It’s like kicking people when they’re down. You don’t park there for fun. You’re probably already stressed out. Everybody needs to go to the hospital at some point, regardless of economic means so it’s not like they’re only targeting the symphony crowd. Grrr. But let’s get back to the topic of this post…

For three years, when I was in my early 20s and working a series of low-paying retail jobs, I made an annual income that was under the poverty line. I sometimes couldn’t pay my bills. I occasionally didn’t have enough money to buy food. And all I had to do was ask family or friends, and I was helped. With a loan. With an invitation to dinner.

As a perma-student, and especially in grad school, I had so many people offer to help. During my MLIS, I borrowed $6500 from my sister and several friends (mostly paid back!). My mom regularly sent me gift cards for SuperStore and looked after my pets for a year (food and vet bills included). Another friend re-gifted $85 in Timmies cards. This is in addition to all the emotional support I received. Why? Because they love me. Because they’ve been there. Because they want me to succeed.

Here’s a paraphrased joke I heard on Laugh Out Loud. Wish I could remember the comedian who said it.

I was walking down the street with a friend and this guy came up and asked us for change. I reached in my pocket and gave him a couple of bucks. My friend said, “You shouldn’t give people money. They’ll just spend it on smokes and booze.” I said, “Well, what did you think I was going to spend it on?”

So what if this woman was lying to me and buys smokes and booze rather than paying for parking?

I don’t care. I know there are all kinds of good arguments for not giving people money. I usually don’t but will offer to buy food or a coffee instead. I guess I probably should have gone with her to the parking meter and paid her ticket. But I didn’t…

I’m unbelievably lucky. I always have people in my life who love and support me. I now have a stable job and a decent income. I have food in my belly and a roof over my head. I am thankfully in a position where $4 means very little. And sometimes it just feels good to be able to help someone out, minus the judgement and suspicion.