Early evening, I’m just back from the 7/11, where I saw a worried man re-stuffing his canvas backpack. He was not drunk. Good-looking guy, a bit raggedy, troubled. “Hey, man,” I said. “Do you need help?”
“Yes,” he said.
I gave him money. “I’ve been there,” I said.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’m not going to buy alcohol with it.”
Leaving the store, juice in hand, I approached him again. Shook his hand.
“What’s up?” I said.
“New in town?”
“No, I grew up in Denver.”
“Can I ask how old you are?”
“Well, man,” I said, “all I can tell you is that it does get better.”
“I’ve slept under trees, man. It sucks. But it does get better.”
“I can’t sleep at all,” he said.
I shook his hand a third time and patted him on a shoulder.
“Don’t do anything desperate, my friend,” I said.
“Oh, no. I’m not a criminal.”
“I didn’t mean that.”
I meant that he should not try to take his own life. As I said, I’ve been there.
“Well, good luck to you,” I said. “I love ya.”
And I left him there, outside the 7/11, unpacking and repacking his backpack.
That’s the end of the incident, but not the end of the story.
What responsibility did I have, do I have, to that man, whose name I do not know?
Do I have any responsibility at all?
I believe I do, though I imagine that more than half of the people in the United States would say I have no responsibility to him at all.
And that even millions of so-called Christians would say that.
So let’s leave the so-called Christians out of it. Let’s limit the discussion to people who actually believe they should live by the words of the Sermon on the Mount.
This man needs attention. Not because he’s dangerous — I do not believe he is — he needs attention because he’s a human being, and he’s suffering, and I believe — on no evidence whatsoever, except my own life — that his suffering could be relieved at no great expense: by just a little bit of attention.
So, accepting that I have some obligation, no matter how limited, to a suffering human being, what was my responsibility to this man?
To call law enforcement on him, on the slim chance that the police or sheriff would not arrest him for lingering with intent to mope, but take him to a mental hospital?
I don’t think so.
To call County Mental Health Services, after hours, and ask them to rush to his rescue?
To ask for his name, and ID, and try to find his family and ask them to pick him up?
Probably not. Maybe his family had reduced him to this state, and would make it worse.
So what should I have done, aside from giving him ten dollars and telling him I love him?
And does giving him $10, which I will never miss, excuse me from … anything?
No, my friends. The only institutions that can help this man, and millions of people like him, are our state, federal, county and municipal governments.
I hear the Republican arguments already. It’s his own fault. He’s a deadbeat. He wants to suck off the government tit (no, he does not). Churches or private charities should take care of him, if he needs or deserves help, which he does not.
Sorry, my friends. He’s a fellow human being, and he’s suffering.
Whose responsibility is he, besides his own?
If you believe the Sermon on the Mount, it’s all of us.
If you believe that government can do any good at all, ever, I would say that it’s the government’s responsibility. Because isn’t the government, in our republic, all of us?
And if you do not believe that it’s the government’s responsibility to help people like him, then why do you believe that governments are instituted among men?