“I’m Sorry”

by

With my tax documents on the front seat of the CRV this morning, I drove to town. Mrs. Gordon was waiting for me at her apartment complex north of the city. She’s an elderly lady who retired from GE years ago, but prepares taxes to supplement her Social Security.

I hate the main drag north of town with its thirty traffic lights and twelve lanes, its strip malls hugging the highway, its allotment of daily accidents, so I try to avoid it. I took the off ramp from Rt. 250 onto Barracks Road. That’s where several of  the homeless people panhandle and sleep under the overpass.  The city clear cut the trees last year to discourage the vagrants from gathering in the undergrowth. The city put up no trespassing signs. The homeless population has decreased from this spot, but they are not extinct.

As I slowed at the traffic light there at the end of the off ramp, I noticed an older man with a slight frame. He wore a white goatee and his hair was a little long and tangled. He stood with his cardboard sign. “Trying to get to N.C.” it read. “Please help.”  I’d not seen him before. He was dressed in faded blue jeans and a brown button down shirt. He had no backpacks or duffle bags, only a fine tremor as he stood holding his small, square sign.

I pressed the button to lower my window and handed him a five dollar bill.  He took the money and said something to me, but I couldn’t hear him over the traffic sounds. He smiled though, and put the five in his front pants pocket. I looked up to see if the light was green and saw a city policemen walking toward the old man. I pointed out my window at the officer so the older man wouldn’t be surprised. I rolled up my window and started to pull away, the light had turned green.

The policeman held up his hand, stopping me, and motioned for me to roll my window back down.  I did.

“You know you are breaking the law,” he said, frowning at me.

“No, I didn’t.” I replied.

“He’s trespassing,” the policeman said, pointing to the old man, “and you are breaking the law by giving him money.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“He’s trespassing, you’re breaking the law, and you’re sorry,” the officer said, shaking his head and turning from me to the homeless man. I felt dismissed and pulled away.

Sometimes I wish I was one of those people who have quick come-backs. I never do. As I drove toward Mrs. Gordon’s apartment, my anger grew. I could feel its heat move from my stomach up to my chest and into my red face before my eyes began to water. I pounded the steering wheel and yelled inside the car for no one to hear, “I’m not sorry for breaking the law. I’m not sorry for giving someone five dollars that I worked for and can decide who and who not to give it to. I’m not sorry for rolling down my window to try to help someone.”

After dropping off my taxes and hugging Mrs. Gordon, I drove back the way I came. I hoped to see that police officer. I wanted to stop and talk with him. I wanted him to know how I felt.

I was ashamed of myself.   I wanted to let him know from my mouth what a disgrace I think it is to make a law that forbids someone from asking for help; and what a disgrace it is to make a law that forbids someone from trying to help. I realize he has to uphold the law, but I wanted to see a bit of compassion on his face. I wanted him to understand.  I wanted him to be sorry too. I wanted to know if he had ever been trying to get somewhere and needed someone to help him.

 

 

 

 

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8 Responses to ““I’m Sorry””

  1. stephanie Says:

    Love ur story and so true it is YOUR money not the governments they get enough and don’t do anything for it!

  2. train-whistle Says:

    Thanks Steph, I always appreciate your reading and comments. A little compassion goes a long way. There for the grace of God… You know?

  3. Jim Cantwell Says:

    It is disturbing that the police officer would stop you to tell you that you were “breaking the law” because you were trying to help someone out.
    That is something to keep in mind the next time the benevolent police association is out with 40 cops at a busy intersection slowing everyone’s commute down, panhandling. I call it that because that’s what it is, funny how they can break the same law when its for them.
    Great post Train and everyone needs help from time to time 🙂

  4. OldMack Says:

    The last time I saw my father alive he was sixty-one years old and was on “recuperation leave” required by the IBEW, his union, following major surgery–while building those electric transmission towers over the mountains from the most recently built TVA dam in Kentucky my father’s chest had been crushed by a boulder bounding down the hill in a rock slide–but there he was, standing on my doorstep in Monmouth, Oregon. His visit was a complete surprise. He had come to see me graduate from college. He had hitch-hiked all the way from his home in middle Tennessee. He stayed with us three days and then hitched back home. A month later, I was shoveling the dirt to fill his grave. He had returned to work, but on the first day of his retirement he had a stroke and died. That day was his sixty-second birthday.

    Your story made me think how much trouble that cop would have had if it had been my old man he’d hassled.

  5. allthingsboys Says:

    Wow! I’m speechless (which doesn’t happen often, I can assure you). I, like you, would have liked to see some social conscience out of the police, no matter what the law was.
    Thanks for sharing!

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