Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Tale of Two Women and the Pork Chop Shakedown

When I respond to friends' invitations with "I don't have money for that," do they believe me? They're all comfortably middle class, just like I used to be. This new financial situation of mine is not an experience they can identify with, I think. But, I'm serious; on the dole, I do not have any money for fun.

Therefore, when a favorite author lectured in Atlanta, I was overjoyed at the price: free. Yeah, that's in my budget. I rounded up a willing friend—also out of work—and made the trek into the city. (What about the price of gas, you ask. Fortunately, I have a paid-for, fuel-efficient Honda.)

I needed a break. I'd toiled for nearly three weeks on a complicated federal government job application. Trust me, executive-position federal applications are not for the faint-hearted: 27 single-spaced pages of supplemental materials.

This night out: my reward for completing and submitting that beast.

Just this once, Pat and I decided to splurge; after the lecture we'd enjoy dinner at Mary Mac's Tea Room.

This restaurant serves generous portions at what I used to call moderate prices. Yet, while not extravagantly expensive, a trip to Mary Mac's would still put a significant dent in my monthly food budget. But, I decided to allow myself this one treat, figuring I could compensate later at the grocery store. (Scrambled eggs for dinner, anyone?)

My order came: three tender, gorgeous, delectable, boneless, center-cut chops fried to a crisp golden brown. Yummmm. Heavenly. Meal and tip: just under $17.

There was a time when I considered $17 mere pocket change. Not now. In my circumstances this is big money. But, I did leave with two untouched pork chops. l'd eat twice more from those glorious leftovers. Three meals equal $5.67/meal. Not too bad.

I clutched my pork chop package proudly as we exited, congratulating myself on having eaten well and carting off additional meals, too. A pretty good deal while "on the dole."

We rounded the corner. A skinny, dirty, homeless woman approached.

Woman (aggressively): "Do you have any money?"

(Yikes! Is she mugging us or asking for a handout? I wondered, trying not to panic.)

Woman (not waiting for our reply): "Do you have any spare change? I'm hong-ry."

Me (cautiously): "Um. . . no, I don't have any money."

(I could only think, she truly has no clue how accurate this statement is.)

Woman (pointing at my bag): "Are those leftovers?"

I nodded, dreading what I knew was coming.

Woman: "Can I have them?"

I truly believe in feeding the hungry, both human and animal, but oh, Lord, I thought, why tonight? Yet, how could I deny this woman my leftovers? Truth is, I could not, and both of us knew it. This was not hunger in the abstract—the kind for which you write a check to the Salvation Army. This was hunger here and now and in my face.

I can't bear for any human or creature to be hungry. Especially not when I have a full belly myself. In my more affluent former life, I used to make soup for my church's homeless mission. I've served food to the hungry in soup kitchens, too.

I'd like to tell you I instantly, willingly and altruistically handed over those pork chops—just one human gladly helping another with nary a selfish thought. That's what I'd like to tell you. But, I can't. The plain truth is my first reaction was that it genuinely ticked me off to part with those two precious pieces of pork.

The only way I'd justified spending $17 for one meal was by making two more meals from the leftovers.

The reality is, at that moment, I wasn't moved by the woman's hunger. What I was thinking was: That's $11 worth of pork chops in that bag—a giveaway I could ill afford in my own circumstances.

But, then the thought raced through my brain: "There but for the grace of God, go I." True, some people become homeless through their own poor decisions. Others land there because of mental illness or addiction. But others are homeless because they—just like educated, middle-class me—lost jobs through no fault of their own, resulting in a downward spiral from which they never recovered. Some, unlike me, may not have family or friends to circumvent that slide into poverty and homelessness.

I still have savings. I have a house. I still have an income albeit limited. I never go to bed hungry.

Probably two-thirds of the people in the world would label me "wealthy" right this minute, even in current circumstances. True, I can't shop or go to movies, but unlike so many in third-world countries, I have plenty to eat, a nearly paid-for roof over my head, a dependable car, a full wardrobe, air conditioning and heat and family and friends in a position to help if I need it. I have much for which to be thankful.

I knew what had to be done.

"Sure," I said, after that first hesitation. I handed the bag to her, and hoped my smile was convincing. "It's two pork chops. They're really good. I hope you enjoy them."

Pulling out of the parking lot, I knew I'd done the right thing even though I still longed for those pork chops. Then it occurred to me that even minus the extra meals I was still the winner in that encounter. I would go home to a nice house, full pantry and refrigerator and a materially blessed life—not one of which the homeless woman would ever likely have or even dare to aspire to have.

That night, all some nameless hungry woman on a dark Atlanta street corner got was two cold second-hand pork chops; I got a new handle on just how blessed my life is even "on the dole." 
Photo courtesy of
Additional Reading: How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill.
Michael Gates Gill was a well-paid advertising executive in a major New York City firm. He was born not just with a silver spoon in his mouth, but with a whole service for eight. Yet this affluent, Yale-educated, well-traveled, arrogant, pompous "family" man loses his job and his self-esteem leading him to make a series of poor personal choices that will hurt those he loves and send him spiraling into dire straits. While the author's personal choices do not qualify him for sainthood, he is brutally honest about his actions and their subsequent consequences. Gill embarks on a journey of self-discovery—all through hourly employment at Starbucks. Proving that those who give a second chances to those who deserve it the least can—both literally and figuratively—save a life.


Anonymous said...

You got 1/3 she got 2/3 God will bless at some time.

Anonymous said...

You may have entertained an angels unaware.

Anonymous said...

I love this post! I can imagine how you'd feel, you probably made that lady's evening!

Hope you eat well this week! xxGodBless GGF!xx

This might make you chuckle:


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