Originally posted Dec. 11, 2010, at Journey to the Edge of the Forest. Republished with permission of the author.
Editor’s note: Anne Doering is living and working in Cuernavaca, Mexico, this year through the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program.
On my afternoon walk from work to the zocalo (the center of town), my feet fall softly on the ground, cushioned by the firm, supportive rubber of my sandals. The straps across the tops of my feet rub just enough to make me aware of them when I pay attention but not so much that they would be painful or annoying.
How grateful I am to have shoes that fit, shoes that don’t cause me pain, shoes at all. The man at the busy intersection I pass every day has shoes too. I haven’t asked him if they fit or not. Perhaps I should.
He also has a ragged towel, a deep red color and slightly dusty and soiled. He folds up its corners into a little bundle. He’s usually standing with his sack in one hand, his slightly greasy-looking hair falling nearly to his bare shoulders, and his spine sticking out like a mountain ridge down the middle of his gaunt, shirtless torso. He stands there, watching traffic pass.
When the cars come to a stop, he throws down his towel in front of the first row of cars at the light, unfolding it on the ground to reveal a collection of shards of glass. He lies down, repeatedly lifting himself up and then dropping his torso down on the glass.
Before the light changes, he gets up to walk among the waiting cars to ask for spare change. I stand there watching with some combination of horror and awe, waiting to cross the street and be on my way.
There’s no blood on his back when he gets up. I’m not sure how he manages this trick. Perhaps his sack actually contains not glass but rather colored bits of plastic. But it doesn’t matter, really. Surely he does this performance all afternoon every day out of desperation. I see it almost as a strike.
Perhaps it’s a peaceful demonstration of anger and desperation and the unwillingness to accept any more injustice and oppression. But I don’t think he sees it that way. I think he sees it simply as a way to keep his stomach full.
I just hope he makes good money for his time. Not that I give him anything. In the United States, I’ve been trained to never give money to beggars. They’re not to be trusted, my head tells me. Who knows what they’ll actually do with the money. And they have their own bootstraps to pull themselves up by anyway. Right?
Sacro, my host-dad, keeps a pile of change in the console of his car and gives a coin to every juggler, acrobat, and would-be window-washer at every stop light. He explains that there are no welfare programs to help those who need to get back on their feet here. Or rather, he corrects himself, there are programs, but they don’t work, are insufficient, and have huge corruption problems. And jobs are difficult to find.
So I make a mental note to keep change in my pocket and give coins to the talented street musicians I pass and truly appreciate. And when my monthly stipend lasts, I’ll buy from the people selling jewelry in the zocalo and perhaps give them a little more than they ask for.
Answers? As usual, I have none. Compassion? I’ll work on it.
Find a link to Anne Doering’s blog Journey to the edge of the forest at Lutheran Blogs.