I heard a fictional story about 15 years ago that plays on my consciousness frequently.
The story goes that on a high remote bridge crossing over a river raging around huge craggy rocks, two men chanced to meet. The older, more-frail man was carrying a rope with a fastener at one end and wearing a harness with a ring the fastener could attach to.
After exchanging pleasantries, the older man with the rope asked the younger, stronger man to please hold the rope for a moment while he made some necessary adjustments.
“No problem,” the stronger man said.
In a flash, the older man attached the fastener to the ring on his harness and jumped over the bridge railing.
And there the other man stood holding the rope. If he let go, the man in the harness would fall to his death. Yet he wasn’t strong enough to pull the man back to the safety of the bridge.
That’s all of the story I remember. So I don’t know what happened.
But the reason I remember the parts of the story I do is at different times and different places in my life, I’ve been both of those men. Sometimes I’m the one wanting or thinking I need my rope to be held. Sometimes I’m the rope holder.
A few weeks ago, realizing my granddaughter’s lunch money stash had been borrowed from, we set out early for school so we would have time to stop at a Walgreen’s that’s practically on our way so I could make a small purchase and get cash back on my debit card. I walked out of the store with two $5 bills in my hand, gave her one, and suddenly standing there by my car was a young man – slightly disheveled I think – who asked if I had $4.50 to spare so he could get the breakfast special at the nearby Burger King.
All sorts of thoughts rushed through my head starting, I think, with the standard mom reaction, “Oh dear, this guy’s hungry,” and elevating to those five pesky verses in the 25th chapter of Matthew that begin, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…”
I handed him the other $5 in my hand, and said, kindly, “It’s your lucky day. God bless you.”
I was in the car, buckling my seatbelt when another man tapped on my window, and gently chastised me, saying “guys like him are always hanging around here. He’s going to take that money you gave him and buy drugs.”
My granddaughter smiled at the man and thanked him for his concern and, as we were driving away, said, “Grandma, you need to watch it. You’re too nice and people take advantage of you.”
Well, the maybe minute-and-a-half transaction weighed on my mind all the rest of the day. That weekend, I wrote my San Angelo Standard-Times column about the incident, concluding with my bottom-line Christian belief that I made the gift without specification of how it was to be used. Because, there is that nagging question that follows me. What if God only gave us what we deserved?
Yeah. My withdrawals are far more than my deposits.
In truth my gift that morning was a sacrifice. We always need lunch money for school. But that morning, I was happy I had enough to share. I rarely carry cash and I’m seldom in the places where there are those with “Will work for food” cardboard signs. I never see one though that I don’t feel a twinge of guilt and consider that I should give something.
There is a growing “tent city” sprawling under the overpass in San Angelo. Panhandlers abound at certain parts of this city, and most others I presume. Some have said it’s a money-making deal, that a beggar on a good street corner can make $300 a day. Really? If someone is making $300 a day why would he choose to live in a tent under a bridge with no electricity, clean water, heat or real shelter? They should work, say critics. Again, not grasping the crux of the problem, I don’t think. Factor in a lack of transportation and communication, the probability of substance abuse and resulting unreliability, then stand back and reassess the issue.
Yep. Some of us got left holding a rope on a bridge. A few others just jumped over the side. And none of us are sure about what we should do next.
Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.