While loading the weekly groceries in the car Saturday afternoon, an elderly woman stopped beside me and caught my attention.
As I leaned into her car, she immediately started assuring me that she was a good person. She offered me her wallet, with her license showing, as proof of her benevolence. She told me her story of needing medicine but being short the necessary copay. I gave her the money. She also asked if I would look at her car (she was convinced it was leaking oil), which I did. She was very grateful, and after asking if she could give me a hug, she got back in her car and drove away.
This is not a letter about my good deed for the day.
This is a letter asking you, as I often ask myself: What kind of society do we want to live in?
My story about an old woman asking for assistance will not surprise anyone who has lived in or around Gainesville long. I have lived here all my life, nearly half of a century now (where has that time gone?!), and I have been asked for spare change more in the past year than I have in my whole life before.
Despite our “great” economy, despite living in the richest, most powerful country the world has ever known, people are hurting.
I can hear the naysayers now. The old woman's story may have been a lie. She may have not needed medicine at all. True, but does that mean that everyone asking for help is a liar? And if that is true, what kind of world are we creating where people are lying daily just for a few scraps? If this woman needed medicine to survive, it's heartbreaking that she had to beg a stranger to get it. If she was begging for something less life threatening, I don't see how that makes the situation less heartbreaking.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said (and I am paraphrasing) that it is our duty to act as good Samaritans, but our duty does not end there. It is not enough to throw a few pieces of gold at a beggar. We must reimagine and reinvent the society that produces the less fortunate.
We live in a community where whole neighborhoods are constantly being built with homes that start at half a million dollars, yet we also live in a community where one stroke of bad luck can have us asking for pocket change. Thus far, we have decided that this is the kind of community that we want. We have said repeatedly that we are fine with the injustice; that we welcome the inequality.
I reject this view. I say that it is high time we demand more from our society, more from ourselves. Human life — all human life — should be about more than begging for green scraps of paper.