Wednesday, September 28, 2016

When Values Clash

I'm standing on the sidewalk when a man on a bike stops in the road and asks in a muddled voice, "Excuse me, do you have some change? I'm really hungry." My pockets are empty but I offer to get him some food. Maybe a sandwich or a slice of apple pie.

"You and me---don't think we eat the same food," he mumbles. "I just need a little change to go down to Bills to get something to eat."

"What will you eat? A sandwich? A protein bar? He scrunches his face and curses, "A protein bar!"

I tried.

"Well good luck," I say, because I don't know what else would be appropriate.

He's peddles away but turns back, "Ain't no such thing as good luck. I'll make you pay for that good luck."

So much for good intentions. I'm left to worry he'll hold a grudge and come back to my daughter's house for revenge.

This is what happens when we value different things. For me, it was an almost-offer to dish up a piece of homemade apple pie I'd made the previous night. For the man on the bike, I suspect he valued alcohol or drugs.

I can never forget the crazed eyes of a woman who also had different values. She stood in the middle of the crosswalk, her eyes wild, her arms in the air, muttering in French. I wasn't sure what she wanted, so I studied her: she wasn't wearing shoes but her feet were somewhat protected by several pairs of long, dirty, socks. Her sweater was stained and shredded. Her hair looked like she'd slept on the streets for weeks.  We made eye contact and she came directly to me. She said she was hungry; she wanted money, but I had no money. Ahh, I was delighted when I remembered the contents of my purse. I had chocolate from a Parisian chocolatier.  I opened up my purse, showed the woman, and proceeded to break off a piece for her. She scoffed and looked at me like I was the crazy person.

I valued that chocolate; she wanted money to feed her demons.

Once at the end of a trip in a foreign country, Tony and I were unaware of the queen's birthday that shut down bus service and banks. We had to rely on a cab driver who took us to the train station for half the fare. Once at the station, I had to stand on a corner and sell our bus tickets in order to buy train tickets. I depended on the kindness of strangers who could speak English. Fortunately a woman took a chance and stopped. I gave her a deal--half price bus tickets. She valued the tickets, I valued her money that would get us to the airport.

I often think about the cab driver who had a value we were so in need of: mercy.