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  • I worked on the 12th floor, so naturally, the elevator was going to make plenty of stops on the way down to the lobby as we all left work. That day, it only stopped on the 6th, a floor occupied by one of the largest law firms in Delaware. A man dressed in a well-tailored suit stepped in to the elevator. I followed him out of our building to the parking lot when I saw him being stopped by a distressed woman. It was hard to distinguish her tears from her sweat. She wore a heavily stained t-shirt and a pair of smeared men's shorts. She held a container of strawberries in hand, likely given to her by someone at the farmer's market nearby.

    She approached the man in front of me, saying, "Please, just buy me a sandwich." Her words brought no hesitation in the man's brisk footsteps. He raised his hand and waved her away. Didn't bat an eye. She approached me right after.

    "I just need some money to buy a sandwich, please..."

    I asked her how much a sandwich costs. She told me probably $5 or $6. As I pulled out my wallet, she sobbed.

    "I have cancer." In one quick motion, she pulled down her shorts and revealed herself. "I'm all wet, please I just need to buy some Depend."

    My heart paced faster than those man's footsteps. Heavier than his wallet. I opened my wallet and saw that I only had $8 left in cash.

    "My mom has that same cancer."

    I gave her all I had, and I walked away.

    I felt helpless -- not because I wasn't able to give the woman more, but because I couldn't stop that man who possibly could have. A man with obvious wealth, yet not a second to spare to use it to help someone in need.

    We have a tendency to drive by cardboard signs and walk by empty coffee cups and ignore the humans that hold them. Humans. My Mama did have that same cancer. And come to think of it, so could the mother of the man who didn't care to spare a second to even listen. So could your mother. So could your grandmother, your sister, your wife, your daughter. No one is immune to calamity.

    I was not passing judgement on the man just as I did not pass judgement on the woman. Many will believe I was naive to have given a 'panhandler' money that was probably not used to buy a sandwich. But the question is not of naivety, it's of conscience.

    The point is not stopping to give money. The point is stopping.

    That day, I witnessed a man who could have stopped, who could have felt, who could have cared. But instead, like many of us do every single day, he chose to walk faster, build walls, and chase this world.

    I am in no way saying I'm a better person for stopping. I am in every way saying I'm human. And in a world of suffering and pain, our humanity is something we should never sacrifice.

    [photo credit to aaron alexander, taken on 1.9.09]
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