I pulled out of my driveway at 5:40 am. The habit of waking up early and getting to medical school well before classes started was paying off. It was an exercise in discipline, one that I took in stride.
I needed coffee, though. Specifically, 32 ounces from Circle K woke me up well before sunrise. I parked my car, approached the entrance door, and then paused. A disheveled man with a shopping cart and a long overcoat was sitting where the sidewalk met the curb. My internal monologue kicked in, ‘Brisk walk. Head down. Look away.’ I sped up and entered the store. I had no petty cash on me. Nor was I in the mood to give.
The man was out of my mind when I approached the coffee machine. I got my fix, paid for the drink, and headed out the door. “Excuse me, would you be able to help me?” A raspy voice cut through the air before I could open my car door. I turned and saw the man. Through the darkness, I made out a wispy beard on a Caucasian face.
“I have no cash. I’m sorry I can’t,” I replied, looking away and pulling open my car door. I may have had a $20 in my glovebox, but it is a well-known fact that homeless people cannot give you change. A fact as distressing as it is true.
“It’s okay. You don’t have anything to be sorry about. I’ll be the one that is sorry. You have a good day, sir.”
The words stung worse than any insult the man could have hurled my way. I paused in shock, hunched in an awkward position. Halfway in my car, halfway out. I looked back, straightened out, smiled, and said, “You too, sir.”
I drove the rest of the way in silence, choosing to turn the podcast off that I listened to every morning. I was a medical student paying in-state tuition with a sizable scholarship. I owned my own car, and my parents provided me with everything I needed to succeed. In less than 10 years, I would be out earning more than 95% of people. I was the definition of privilege. Yet I could not find it in me to part with a $20 bill. In response, I was wished a good day and told not to feel sorry.
$20 would not have changed that man’s life, but I couldn’t help but feel complicit that week.
Image Credits: Douglas Davey; Wikimedia Commons