Saturday, May 30, 2009

Victim of the Recession

I had just come out of a grocery store recently when a lady roughly my own age approached me in the parking lot. She was thin and somewhat frail looking. Her face was lined and care-worn and she seemed on the verge of tears.

"Excuse me, sir, could you please help me?" she said. I asked her what I could do for her.

"My name is Cheryl", she answered. "I was layed off from work. I need to go in there to buy some food. I have two daughters at home. Please, could you help me? I'm not a bum."

Indeed, this lady certainly didn't seem like your average panhandler, those unkempt, dirty men who sit against the walls of public buildings, reeking of alcohol and harassing the passers-by for spare change. She seemed credible. My heart went out to her.I handed her about eight dollars in change that I found in the pockets of my jeans. She thanked me, and I continued to my car to unload my shopping cart full of groceries. I watched her as I pulled out of the parking lot and saw that she was still approaching others. Well, eight dollars will hardly feed a mother and her two daughters.

Thinking back on it now, what I should have done was to accompany her into the grocery store, invite her to buy whatever provisions she needed, and pay for them. I've been lucky. The recession hasn't touched me ... yet. I could have easily afforded a few extra groceries for this woman and her daughters, and I could have solved her immediate problem and spared her the indignity of having to approach others for a financial handout, but I was preoccupied with my own affairs. I had a shopping cart full of groceries to load into my car. We were having family over for dinner in a few hours and I still had other things to prepare. I didn't want to take the time to do more for this unfortunate than I already had.

I believe that this recession will get worse before it gets better. Many honest, well-intentioned, hard-working people will lose their jobs and some of those will find it necessary to depend on the goodwill of strangers. Our political and business leaders have shown themselves to be woefully incapable of helping. Many of them are more a part of the problem than the solution.

The gap between the "Have's" and the "Have Not's" grows ever wider. The same parking lot where I met Cheryl was abundant with large, expensive SUVs. The owners of some of those may well have been the same people who decided to lay Cheryl off. Perhaps they collected large bonuses for doing so.

This recession didn't come about because of a lack of wealth. It came about because of greed, and the inequitable distribution of an overabundance of wealth. It is the direct result of people thinking only of their own interests, and failing to think long-term. As long as the next month-end balance sheet looks good, who cares about next year? That's someone else's problem.

Let's face it; it's not in the interest of the wealthy to share with the less fortunate, and those with money tend to influence government, so it's naive to expect a more equitable society in the foreseeable future. Therefore, I believe our best hope is for common people to help each other by sharing their resources, their time and their talent. Give a few dollars to those charitable organizations whose envelopes land in your mailbox once in a while. Lend a hand to one of the many non-profit organizations that are always looking for volunteers. Most importantly, if you bump into someone like Cheryl, show a little compassion. There, but for the grace of God, as they say, goes you.

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