Once upon a time: a lesson in authentic charity…

Once upon a time, there lived a man named Marvin whose home was a cardboard box deep in the city park that existed in the middle of a very busy part of the downtown business district.

Many homeless people lived deep in the park, because they knew that all the busy people going to and from work were good prospects for a few dollars here and there.

Marvin even had regular contributors who would sit on the benches around the fringes of the park during their lunch hours, because they were not afraid of the homeless people who lived deep in the park. These regulars, often young business people, would bring Marvin donations of new socks, prepaid calling cards, brand new writing tablets and pens and even one or two dollars. They did this without Marvin even having to ask, because these regular contributors had at one time or another taken the time to talk with Marvin and find out the story of how he came to be homeless. Simply put, they saw Marvin as another human being.

“Hey, Marvin. I got something for you,” a man in a very expensive double-breasted suit yelled to Marvin as he saw Marvin coming out of the center of the park.

“Thomas, good morning. How are you, my friend? Where’s your lunch?” Marvin smiled when he saw his friend, and he shifted his direction a bit to walk over to him.

“Not eating today. I just thought I might catch you coming out of the park and came down from my office to bring you something,” Thomas said.

When Marvin got to Thomas, Marvin extended his dusty hand which Thomas shook heartily with his well-manicured hand. When the handshake was complete, Marvin looked down, reached into his pocket and extended out to Thomas a white square packet. Thomas chuckled and waved the packet away, and then he thrust the hand that he’d used to shake Marvin’s hand into his pocket.

“Marvin, you’re always trying to get me to use those moist wipes. I grew up on a farm. A little dirt never hurt anybody,” Thomas would say. Once back upstairs, Thomas would go to the men’s room and wash his hands, but that was just his routine after being outside and before touching his computer keyboard. It had nothing to do with trying to wash away Marvin’s touch. Thomas just liked a clean keyboard.

This was Marvin’s and Thomas’ routine each time they saw each other. Marvin put the packet back in his pocket and looked up again at Thomas, who was holding a watch in the hand he’d put into his pocket.

“That’s a beauty there,” Marvin said with a sparkle in his eye.

“I remember the last time I was out here you said the band on your other watch broke, so I was at Walmart this weekend, and I saw this and thought about you,” Thomas said and extended the watch towards Marvin. Marvin took the watch and put it on his wrist. He then looked up at Thomas and smiled.

“Oh! I almost forgot.” Thomas reached back into his pocket and pulled out a small booklet. He handed it to Marvin.

“This will come in handy when I want to figure out how to set the alarm. Thomas, this is so thoughtful of you. I don’t know what to say,” Marvin said and didn’t try to hide his emotions.

“Aw, you would have done the same for me. Think nothing of it,” and Thomas really meant that. He truly believed that Marvin and he had the same kind of love and compassion for their fellow man.

“Well, thank you, again, Thomas, and by the time on my watch, you better get back up to your desk before you’re late back from lunch,” Marvin said jokingly, which caused them both to laugh out loud.

Marvin watched Thomas go, and then Marvin switched back to his original direction. This was his day to try to raise enough money to go to Bernie’s for a good, hot meal. He tried to eat heartily at least twice a week. When it was cold out, he tried to get to Bernie’s more.

Marvin wasn’t the only homeless person who went to Bernie’s for a good meal. Lots of the deep-park dwellers preferred to patronize Bernie’s because the owner of the restaurant, Bernie Anderson, had been homeless himself before getting back on his feet and starting his restaurant. When a street person ate at his restaurant, ol’ Bernie always gave them extra and charged them the standard rates. When Bernie saw that they were close to done with their meal, he’d drop off their check and a to-go bag of some fruit, a couple of cold cut sandwiches and a bottle of water. Later, when they opened their to-go bags in the privacy of their cardboard boxes or their makeshift lean-tos, they’d also find the tip they’d left for Bernie the last time they came to eat at his restaurant. When one man had tried to force Bernie to take back the tip he’d left for Bernie, Bernie said, “keep it and put it on your next meal,” and that’s exactly what the man did. It’s exactly what they all did.

The local news had even done a story on Bernie, and they asked him why he charged those who were obviously less fortunate than many of his other customers the standard prices that were on his menu. Bernie looked right into the camera and said simply, “It’s a matter of respect. It’s about dignity.” You could tell by the look on the reporter’s face that she didn’t know whether Bernie was talking about himself or his customers, but his homeless clientele nodded their heads, because they got it.

As Marvin made his way to his usual spot, he passed by women who clutched their purses a little closer and men who skirted wide around Marvin so as to keep him from getting any dirt on their fancy suits.

When he got to his usual spot, he started his campaign.

“Excuse me, can you spare a few dollars for…”

“Get out of here, you dirty bum! You stink! Take this with you and go!” The owner of the restaurant in front of which Marvin did his begging barreled out of his establishment and started spraying Marvin in the face with something from a white bottle. Marvin’s eyes immediately began to burn. As Marvin ran away blinking, he could tell by the smell of the mist that had gone up his nose that the restaurant owner had sprayed a mixture of water and bleach in his face.

As Marvin stumbled towards one of the outside water fountains, desperately ¬†groping for the fountain’s handle, he shoved his face under the stream and let the water cascade over his eyes. Once his panic begin to subside, he realized someone was speaking to him.

“Sir, I said are you okay, sir?” The police officer who was standing a few paces away from Marvin was only distinguishable to him through his blurry vision by the blue uniform that Marvin could make out as he blinked his eyes furiously. Before Marvin could reply, a woman with a high-pitched voice butted in.

“I told you, officer! I saw the whole thing. That man, than man who owns Cuisine Chalet sprayed this guy with bleach! Right in his face! Bleach!” She was coming into view, too, as Marvin continued to blink his eyes. Everything around Marvin was clearing up, and he was thankful for that. To be blind and homeless was just more than Marvin thought he could bear.

“Ma’am, please. I’ll handle this,” the officer said with authority. This caused the woman to quiet down, but she walked over to Marvin and put her hand on his shoulder. She immediately pulled it away when she realized his shirt was wet and the perspiration from his frantic dash had caused his body odor to kick up. She tried to stifle her reaction as she moved slightly away but stayed close to Marvin.

“Sir, I saw the whole thing. If you want to press char…”

“No, Miss. Thank you. I’m fine,” Marvin said quickly. Marvin had not had very many good experiences with police officers since he’d been living on the streets, and he wanted the one standing in front of him to leave as quickly as possible.

“Sir, do you want to file a complaint?” The officer asked the question in a lazy voice, which indicated that he was only asking because he had to, not because he thought Marvin didn’t deserve what had happen to him.

“No, Officer. Thank you. I’m fine,” Marvin said. He was blinking a lot less, but his eyes were very red and very irritated.

“Well, I want to file a complaint!” The helpful lady was defiant.

“Ma’am, you can’t file a complaint. You weren’t assaulted,” the officer said in just as lazy a voice to her.

“I was right there! I saw that guy do it! I saw him spray this man in the face with that bleach!”

“Is this true, sir? Were you assaulted?” The officer’s tone hadn’t changed.

“I don’t want to press any charges, Officer. I’m fine, Miss. Really. Thank you, but I’m really fine.”

“You can’t let him get away with what he did! He’s a bully, and you have to stand up to him!” The woman was even more defiant.

“Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to move along, please.” The officer looked at his watch. “You don’t want to be late back from lunch, do you?”

“Well, I… This is… I can’t bel…” The woman huffed in resignation and finally walked away.

The police officer studied Marvin for another few minutes, and then he walked away, too.

It was three months before Marvin decided to try to collect donations from the corner where Cuisine Chalet sat. It was his most lucrative spot for collecting contributions, and no other place had compared to it.

He worked up his courage and then headed back to where he had been assaulted months before. This time, he decided to go when about fifteen minutes of the lunch hour was over, because he reasoned that the restaurant owner would be so busy with customers he wouldn’t have time to harass Marvin.

At first, Marvin just stood next to the mailbox and didn’t approach anyone. He thought that if the restaurant owner was going to try to attack him again, he would rush out as soon as he saw Marvin.

After about seven minutes, nothing had happened so Marvin waited for the next person to pass close to where he was standing. A young lady was coming towards him, and she smiled at Marvin and didn’t try to pretend he wasn’t there. When she got almost to where Marvin was standing, he tried her.

“Excuse me, Miss, can you spare a couple of dollars so I can get something to eat?”

The young woman stopped in front of Marvin and looked him full in the face and continued to smile. Marvin smiled back.

“I’d like to help, but I won’t give you any money. I will, however, go in that restaurant and buy you anything you want, if you’re hungry.” The woman was pointing to Cuisine Chalet.

The young woman’s smile begin to fade as she saw the color drain from Marvin’s face. After several seconds of staring at one another, Marvin spoke.

“Thank you, no, Miss,” Marvin said as politely as he could. To his astonishment, the young lady’s face turned from friendly to angry instantly.

“You said you were hungry, and I said I’d buy you whatever you want to eat from there. It’s close, and I get lunch from there all the time,” the young lady said in a stern tone.

“Again, Miss. Thank you, no. I don’t want any food from there.” Marvin tried to make his countenance friendly, but this seemed to anger the young lady even more.

“What is it? You’re not really hungry? You were going to take my money and go buy drugs with it? This is why we don’t want to help you people. You say one thing, but you people are all liars. You just want to take advantage of good, hard-working people like me. Well, I…”

Marvin didn’t hear what the young lady was, because he had already started walking away from her when she accused him of wanting to buy drugs, and he was out of earshot in a few seconds.

Passers-by looked curiously at the young lady who seemed to be hollering at no one by the time she finished her tirade. They looked where she was looking across the street, but no one was there.

The young lady finally became self-conscious and looked around to see people staring at her like she was a crazy woman, and she slinked away in the direction she’d been going before Marvin had said anything to her.

Marvin never did go back to the corner near Cuisine Chalet.

As a matter of fact, Marvin never went back to asking for donations. His regulars still gave him new socks, prepaid calling cards, brand new writing tablets and pens and even one or two dollars, but Marvin never truly regained his faith in humanity after the incident with the restaurant owner. His encounter with the young lady shattered the fragile trust that Marvin had tried to re-establish with humanity in his own mind, and everyone watched Marvin withdraw into himself until it dawned on them after several months that no one had seen Marvin in a while. Several of his regular contributors asked some of the other people who lived deep within the park about good ol’ Marvin, and a good number of them cried when they learned that Marvin had been found dead inside his cardboard box about a week ago.

It was the owner of Bernie’s who had put out a pickle jar with a sign taped to it that read: R.I.P Marvin. Please give what you can for our dearly departed’s burial.

And people did give.

And Bernie did collect enough for Marvin’s headstone.

And Marvin was missed.

The moral of the story: Help others in the ways they need help, not in the ways that you have decided you want to be of assistance. Because even in your willingness to give, you’re still being selfish.

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