A month or so ago, I was eating Burger King in Newmarket. Don’t judge me. I’d had a bad week. Two dirty men sat right outside the door, asking for spare change. One of them hocked his throat and spat. The other was singing badly and obnoxiously. A faint odour wafted around the pair. I did what everyone else did; I pretended they weren’t there.
As I sat in the window eating my Chicken Hawaiian burger combo (large; again, no judgement), I noticed a man in a suit order two combos to takeaway, stride outside then casually hand the paper bags over to the men sitting at the door like it was no big deal. The suit briefly said something that made the other two look up at him briefly, then they ducked their heads as they accepted the food. The suit continued on his way.
A few weeks back, Husband and I treated ourselves to a date night. We got all cultural on it and went to the World Press Photography Exhibition at Smith and Caughey’s, followed by Dunkirk at iMax, with a chaser of dinner at The Fed. While wandering along Queen Street and looking forward to the admittedly pretty #basicbitch evening ahead, I was genuinely shocked at the number of street people I saw. I mean, the news regularly tells me that homelessness is a massive issue in Auckland, but I guess you don’t really see homeless people on the North Shore. It was a nice night to be out knowing that you got to home again, but I can’t imagine it would have been very comfortable for the people who didn’t have anywhere else to go. The sky was clear but the air was icy. Men huddled in corners, proffered cups for loose change, stared blankly at passers-by.
When I walk past people begging on the street, I’ve got to admit that my default reaction is to pretend they’re not there and keep walking. I don’t know what else to do. So what was even more shocking – but in a beautiful way – was the number of people I saw who stopped. Amid the Queen Street crush, in the space of about five minutes I saw three passers-by stop at the feet of beggars, bend down and talk to them, then leave them with the food they were carrying. One guy had just bought sushi, then immediately gave it away. Another guy handed an old man a warm pie. A girl walked out of the Metro New World and let a man on the street choose something from her plastic bag.
I like to think I’m a little bit humanitarian; I have a few sponsor kids’ photos on my fridge. But when need in my own backyard slaps me in the face like it did then, it becomes blindingly apparent that I’m not quite as altruistic as I thought I was. They say it’s better to give than to receive. The Bible teaches us to love the poor. In Hebrew, the words for ‘righteousness’ and ‘generosity’ are the same (‘Tzedakah’, if you’re interested). Yet sometimes giving just isn’t second nature.
I guess I’ve just been challenged to open my eyes more to recognise need around me, and be more immediate in my acknowledgement of it. I can’t solve the world’s problems, but I can buy a homeless man a Burger King combo.