He shuffles past- eyes downcast, darting left and right, finally settling on the fixating jewel of an easy sell- sizing me up to consider the likelihood of my business and the size of my heart. His body bends over at a 100 degree angle, making a table to hold up the weight of his livelihood on his emaciated back. The 5 years he’s spent treading the land of the Khmers- he’s spent them begging. But the words- the pleading- in his eyes, are laced with pride. He is not asking, he is telling, he is declaring- you have to help me. We both know how easy it is for me to pull at the strings of your guilty heart, he smirks. Standing 1 foot away, our circumstantial circumstances could not be further disparate nor increasingly desperate. Yet somehow I have become the victim in this treacherous game of moth to flame.
He glares at me with disgust- not only have I beguilingly assured him I already own all of what he is offering me, but I likewise have not the means to fund his $1 meal. For this young enterprising boy, without a pair of shoes nor a shower in over a week, without more than a basket slung over his shoulder, containing words he cannot read, places he has not seen, I cannot let my I’m-not-a-tourist pride down, I cannot shove aside the feeling of being fooled, I can no longer look him in the eyes and offer a convincing I’m sorry.
Now my eyes fall downcast, my body slumps over with shame, my brows scrunch together, empty of the same pride I had tried so vehemently to preserve. I try to understand what about this boy who has taken his business mobile, bringing the service directly to the customer, eliminating the middle man, was somehow less dignified than the bookseller next door. What judgement had I subconsciously passed on this boy that allowed me to treat him like I would be doing him a favor rather than him me, in offering me a service for a fee?
Although I had no need for the merchandise he offered, I felt as a moth, sucked in to the iridescent flame that encircles the poor, tentatively touching the flame at will and when I felt the burn would leave the deepest impact. This, feeding a child for a day, buying a book that I did not need, was not the impact I was looking to make, but why? Why had I drawn a line and decided that if I were to make impact, it had to be lasting, deep, and empowering? Where had I lost sight of the end-all-be-all game plan to help those in need?
Is there saintliness that exists in the hearts of those who simply yearn for the feeling of having helped one person, for one day, eat one meal? Is there method to the madness that exists in the hearts of those who refuse to feed a person when they will likely never truly teach them to fish for a lifetime?