The guy in the median, holding a cardboard sign with an unreadable plea that was faded by time and the weather, walked with a palsied leg in the frigid rain, hoping someone would give him some money.

The conventional wisdom is not to give money to people in those circumstances because then there would be a homeless person, or one pretending to be, at every traffic light in the city. We’re encouraged to donate money to feed the hungry through our grocery store, or a non-profit organization.

“You give lots of money already,” I told myself. “What if he’s faking the disability?” “What if he uses the money for alcohol?” And “If you give to him today, he’ll be here every day.”

By the time I had run through all of the reasons I shouldn’t dig my wallet out of my side pocket, I was relieved to see the light turn green, and, of course, I shouldn’t hold up traffic.

“Dammit,” I said as I drove on. “It’s freezing, he’s standing in the rain, and what difference does it make that you give to every food drive? Go back and give him some money.”

“It’s too late.”

"It’s NOT too late. Make the u-turn up there and go back.”

And so, I did. And then another u-turn to reach him. He was up at the light, and I was several cars back. I held my hand out the window and waved the money I had pulled out of my wallet. He hobbled to me.

“Thanks,” he said. “I just want to eat before I go to the shelter tonight.”

“I’m Brian. What’s your name?”

He gave it.

“Take good care of yourself.”

“Thanks,” he said, as we looked eye to eye. Suddenly then, the person in the car behind me lowered the window and stuck their arm out with money.

“You cheapskate,” I said to myself as I continued on my errands. “You should have given him more.”

I tell this personally embarrassing story merely to say that often in my life I’ve needed to make u-turns, and then another, to find the person I wronged or who wronged me. Sometimes it’s a physical act of actually going back to apologize so that both they and I can move on, and sometimes the u-turn is mental, knowing that if I don’t forgive them and let go, I’ll be driving in circles for the rest of my life.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the person forgives me, or if I think I’m a cheapskate, or if the litter I went back to is still there. What matters is that I’m creating a practice of taking responsibility for my actions, and not assuming I know the intentions of the other.


Brian McNaught has been an author and educator on LGBTQ issues since 1974. Former Congressman Barney Frank said of Brian, “No one has done a better job of chronicling what it’s like to grow up gay." http://www.brian-mcnaught.com/